By Bernard Silkowski, CSP, Director of Loss Prevention Operations
In the course of 20 days that ended on Jan. 14, six employees died on the job in central Ohio.
The news reports indicate that four suffered crushing injuries at three separate manufacturing sites and a loading dock, one fell off a ladder while replacing light fixtures in an office, and one was caught in machinery at a commercial car wash.
The fact that these six deaths occurred in such a short period of time in one part of the state serves to heighten attention to workplace safety. Plain and simple: No worker should die because of a workplace injury. Sadly, 5,147 workers throughout the U.S. did in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Transportation-related accidents account for more workplace deaths than any other injury causation. In the past year, Ohio workers also were buried in trenches, electrocuted, and struck by falling trees, lumber, and other objects. Others fell off roofs and walls, slid into an auger, and drowned when the equipment they were operating fell into water. How could this happen?
We should be outraged because proven means to prevent workplace fatalities exist.
Going above and beyond compliance
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations exist because they work. Employers should embrace them and treat them for what they are: minimum compliance requirements. Going above and beyond compliance reduces risk even more. Building safety into processes rather than treating it as an add-on or afterthought reinforces safety expectations and embeds it in the culture. In most cases the benefits go beyond improving safety to increasing quality and productivity as well as reducing workers’ compensation and other costs.
Public employers, this applies to you, too. In fact, injury rates are higher for public employers than private employers. Why? Work is still work and hazards are still hazards. Whether in the private sector or government the same principles of sound safety management apply.
But we trained the employee, you say. She didn’t follow the procedure. He didn’t use common sense. What were they thinking?
All employers have the duty to provide safe and healthful workplaces, and that starts with becoming intimately familiar with OSHA standards to learn the requirements that apply to their work activities. This duty goes beyond simply training employees and handing them personal protective equipment and written safety procedures. It also means managing the process to ensure employees understand the training, wear the PPE and follow the procedures. All the time. It means assigning tasks only to persons who are trained and qualified to perform the work safely.
Assess hazards and be proactive
Critical to all this is performing hazard assessments that identify potential hazards and determine the most appropriate measures to protect the workers. “What could possibly go wrong?” is a good question to ask, while paying particular attention to high-energy and high-consequence hazards such as struck-bys, caught-betweens, chemical exposures and electrical contacts. We all make mistakes and have bad days, so providing robust protection allows for those eventualities. The hierarchy of controls can guide every work planner in choosing effective means of protection.
Two other resources can help employers improve the safety of their workplaces: employees and safety and health professionals. Employees bring to the table their intimate knowledge of the work and practical insights about how to do it more safely. Safety professionals bring:
- Understanding of the nuances of regulatory requirements, human error, and injury causation.
- Skills in hazard assessment, analysis, and facilitation.
- Knowledge of risk reduction methods, best practices and human behavior.
- And the entire body of knowledge that makes safety a profession.
Trained to help employers reduce and manage risk, safety professionals can spot the traps that can lead to injury in otherwise well-intentioned efforts. They help everyone see what could possibly go wrong.
Way back in 2000, I was grocery shopping in New England and noticed this saying on the back of another shopper’s company T-shirt: Workplace injuries went out of style in the last century. I was heartened because I thought that reflected a changing attitude toward workplace safety. It’s 19 years later and we’ve made progress as a nation and state but not enough. We should be outraged that workplace injuries and fatalities are still occurring when the means to make major reductions are in the hands of every employer.