Total Worker Health – the next step in workplace evolution

By Greg Williams, BWC Occupational Safety and Hygiene Fellow

When I was little I remember hearing stories of the Industrial Revolution in school. I remember accounts of children, my age or younger, having to go to work to support their families, often in abhorrent conditions.

Eastern Illinois University describes it this way: “Young children working endured some of the harshest conditions. Workdays would often be 10 to 14 hours with minimal breaks during the shift. Factories employing children were often very dangerous places leading to injuries and even deaths.  Machinery often ran so quickly that little fingers, arms and legs could easily get caught.”

While working conditions were abhorrent for children, they weren’t any better for their parents. Wages were dismal, hours were long and workplaces put safety on the backburner in favor of production.

One of the worst industrial accidents took place in 1911 in the Triangle Factory in New York City. Cramped conditions, inadequate exits, and an inability of workers to speak out for their safety led to a fire killing scores of workers.

We look back upon these stories and wonder how it could have ever been this way. Who would let a 6-year-old work in a factory? Who would expose workers to such dangerous hazards? Why didn’t someone intervene?

A lot has changed since then. It’s been more than a century, and laws prohibit children from working under a certain age. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates conditions in workplaces around the country. The number of workers losing their lives on the job is lower than it has ever been. Indeed it seems like we have it all figured out, right?

That’s when I think about where we will be a hundred years from now. What conditions do we subject individuals to now that our great-great grandchildren will find appalling? What will they teach in schools in the year 2117 about labor in the year 2017? What are the next steps we should be taking to care for workers in the 21st century?

The answer to this question is simple. Instead of sending workers home the same way we found them, we need to send them home better than we found them. This is the idea behind Total Worker Health, a program put in place by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This program takes a comprehensive look at worker well-being. Not only does it promote following OSHA standards, but it also advocates proper benefits and policies for employees, commitment to wellness from employers, comprehensive wellness programs for workers, and so much more.

The idea driving this TWH approach is that the workplace is a perfect environment to implement health and safety interventions. It makes sense. The most recent employment statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that around 140 million people are currently working in the U.S. American businesses lose trillions of dollars each year in productivity, absenteeism and medical costs. Where better to try and intervene in the health, safety and wellness of individuals than the place they spend half their day?

This mindset led BWC to partner with NIOSH on research and initiatives to better the lives of workers both on and off the clock.

We’re also honored to be part of the NIOSH TWH Affiliate Program and its focus on an integrated approach to protecting and promoting worker well-being.

This article is not about giving a template on how to build a great worksite wellness and safety program. It’s not about telling you everything you need to be doing to promote a healthy workforce. Instead, it’s about the why behind taking the next steps to improve worker health. Indeed when our descendants look back on our generation, we want them to see all the efforts we made to protect and promote the health and well-being of our workers.

Make your business a falls-free zone!

September is Falls Prevention Awareness Month

Submitted by STEADY U Ohio, an initiative of the Ohio Department of Aging

Older adults probably play an important role in the success of your business, both as consumers and employees. That is, until they fall down.

One in three older adults will fall this year. Every five minutes, an older Ohioan is injured in a fall. When staff or customers fall in your business, it doesn’t just hurt them; it also hurts your reputation and your bottom line. A single fall can affect an older adult’s ability to remain independent and contribute to your continuing success.

Most falls in businesses can be prevented, and prevention can be achieved largely through staff and customer education and motivation. The STEADY U Ohio initiative is ready to help businesses create a safer environment for older adults and Ohioans of all ages who do business with them. Here are a few steps every business should take to prevent falls:

  • Create a falls prevention policy for your business and make sure your employees know and understand it.
  • Routinely identify issues with flooring, stairs, lighting and housekeeping that could cause accidents.
  • Post signs at your entrance and around the business advising customers to notify staff of slipping or tripping hazards.
  • Ensure that walkways are clean and clear of cords and obstructions. If you must use rugs or mats, ensure that they remain flat and that they do not move under foot.
  • Ensure that people can move freely around displays in the aisles without adjusting their gait. Avoid displays at the end of aisles that obscure a customer’s view of other customers and obstacles.
  • Have staff regularly monitor aisles for items that have fallen off shelves and are blocking.
  • Quickly clean up all spills (dry and wet). Provide supplies (i.e., towels, “wet floor” signs, trash cans) in convenient locations around your business.
  • Provide seating around your business, particularly in areas where customers may have to wait during busy times (e.g., near checkout lines, the service desk, the pharmacy, restrooms and exits).
  • When it’s snowy or icy, extend sales or offer shopping options for older customers (e.g., delivery or rain checks by phone) so they don’t have to risk falling to get a good deal.
  • Educate staff on proper lifting and carrying techniques and equipment, and instruct them to help customers carry large or bulky objects and bags.
  • If someone falls, document the incident and examine the cause so that you can prevent future accidents. Use our incident report template to get started.
  • Empower staff to offer assistance to customers who appear to be having trouble getting around.

Find tools to help your business prevent falls at our website, www.steadyu.ohio.gov. Resources include a sample falls prevention policy, a hazard checklist, an incident report template, tip sheets and a falls risk self-assessment. Educate yourself, your staff and your consumers, and make your business a falls-free zone!

Protecting Ohioans in agriculture

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Agriculture has always been a critical component of Ohio’s economy and one of the state’s major industries for employment.

According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is also the most hazardous industry in the country. Each day, almost 100 agriculture workers in the U.S. suffer a lost-time work injury, with 60 percent related to overexertion or slips, trips and falls.

With all of this in mind, BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene (DSH) decided once again to promote its products and services at the Farm Science Review – one of the premier agricultural trade and education shows in the nation. Hosted by The Ohio State University, this year’s event runs Sept. 19-21 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.

For the second straight year, representatives from DSH will staff a booth to engage visitors about the free programs and services we offer to assist employers and workers in Ohio’s agribusiness.

For example, our industrial hygienists can help farms guard against environmental hazards, including chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, dust, mold, extreme noise and temperature extremes.

Our ergonomists can illustrate ways to cut down on hazards resulting from:

  • Manual materials handling;
  • Repetitive, hand-intensive work;
  • Poor workstation design;
  • Sedentary work.

The average cost of a lost-time claim for Ohio agriculture companies* is a little more than $52,000. Our safety consultants can help prevent common but costly injuries to protect the bottom line of Ohio’s agriculture businesses and their workers.

If you’re going to Farm Science Review this week, stop by and see us! We’re booth No. 32 in Building 513.     

Related links
Grain Storage and Handling Operations – The Deadliest Hazards
Safe at Work, Safe at Home  

*With 10 to 49 employees

Investing in safety is good business

By Sarah D. Morrison, BWC Administrator/CEO

Recent research published in the Journal of Accounting and Economics finds that managers of U.S. companies struggling to meet earnings expectations may risk the health and safety of workers to save on costs and please investors.

We at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation believe skimping on safety to help the company’s bottom line is a bad business plan. It is short-sighted and contradicts what experts in occupational health and safety have been telling us for years — investing in safety is good business.

As safety experts, we make this case every day, and I’m pleased to say many Ohio businesses agree. Businesses that invest in workplace safety and health reduce fatalities, injuries and illnesses. This means lower medical and legal expenses and lower costs to train replacement employees — all of which minimizes workers’ compensation costs and premiums. Moreover, employers often find improvements to workplace safety and health boost employee morale and productivity. And when that happens, the company’s financial performance usually gets a boost, too.

Various studies report that for every $1 invested in workplace safety, employers receive between $2 and $6 in return. Ohio BWC is investing in safety as well. We offer numerous opportunities for companies to get financial assistance when they invest in safety.

We offer $15 million in safety intervention grants each year. These grants provide three dollars for every one dollar the employer invests in new safety equipment, up to $40,000. More than 2,000 businesses have benefited from the grants over the past four years. In one study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2014, we found employers who received BWC safety grants decreased the frequency of injuries in the area of the new equipment by 66 percent and the cost of injuries by 81 percent.

We employ safety consultants, industrial hygienists and ergonomists who will help businesses develop and maintain effective safety-management programs – all at no charge to the employer. We’ve helped 59 small companies in high-hazard industries achieve SHARP status, a prestigious safety designation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In addition, Ohio employers have access to free informational services through our library, and they get free entry into two annual events we hold concurrently, the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo (the second largest occupational safety and health event in the nation) and the Workers’ Compensation Medical & Health Symposium.

As many Ohio businesses have found, our programs work. The number of businesses using our safety services and programs grew by 70 percent between 2010 and 2015 to more than 21,000. The number of injuries in our system, meanwhile, fell by 13.2 percent, even as Ohio was experiencing job growth of 7.5 percent.

Preventing workplace injuries is part of our mission, and we’re ramping up these efforts starting early next year when we introduce a new program to provide health and wellness services to workers employed by small businesses in high hazard industries. Additionally, we plan to launch a safety campaign to educate the public about safety awareness at work and in the home. The campaign will focus on preventing injuries associated with slips, trips and falls, overexertion and motor vehicle accidents.

We want to create a culture of safety across Ohio. Safety should be a way of life for all of us. Those who think it’s not worth the investment are doomed to discover otherwise. Our workers deserve better than that.

Gaming technology helping researchers study injuries at nursing facilities

BWC grants are funding exciting research into a variety occupational health and safety issues at Ohio colleges and universities.

Cleveland State University was one of the first recipients of the Ohio Occupational Safety and Health Research Program back in 2015. Since then, researchers have been studying how to reduce injuries in nursing homes.

Check out this story from News Channel 5 in Cleveland about how the university is using gaming technology in its research.

Are you prepared for the worst-case scenario?

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

The Boy Scout motto is short and simple: Be Prepared.

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, wanted “each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.” Following a similar philosophy, National Preparedness Month (NPM) reminds the public to be prepared for emergency situations at home, work, school and places of worship.

This year’s National Preparedness Month (NPM) – which kicks off Sept. 1 – focuses on planning with an overarching theme of Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can. We all can and should take action to prepare for emergencies. The recent news out of Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey is a heartbreaking and harsh reminder for us all.

As always, Ready.gov has a host of resources for use throughout the month with each week highlighting a different theme.  

Week 1:  Sept. 1-9 Make a Plan for Yourself, Family and Friends
Week 2:  Sept. 10-16 Plan to Help Your Neighbor and Community
Week 3:  Sept. 17-23 Practice and Build Out Your Plans
Week 4:  Sept. 24-30 Get Involved! Be a Part of Something Larger

The best way to be prepared is to make a plan for you, your family and friends. Ready.gov suggests asking the following questions as a starting point.

  • How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  • What is my shelter plan?
  • What is my evacuation route?
  • What is my family/household communication plan?

From here you can craft a plan specific to your household, your family and your friends. For more details, visit the Ready.gov Make a Plan page.

It’s not just people who need to prepare for emergencies. It’s critical for businesses too. Ready.gov also has plenty of resources related to emergency preparedness for businesses.

Here at BWC, we also offer courses on preparedness for Ohio employers. To register for a course near you, log in to the BWC Learning Center and search under Emergency Preparedness. Finally, our Division of Safety & Hygiene Library has resources, including books, periodicals and videos, with more information about emergency preparedness planning.

Remember, when it comes to hazards (whether natural or human-caused) it’s always best to be prepared.

Plinko, prizes and promotion highlight BWC’s return to the fair

By the BWC Occupational Safety and Hygiene Fellows

A few weeks back, we were fortunate to be among the exhibitors at the Ohio State Fair. During our 12 days on-site, we estimate we interacted with at least 5,000 fairgoers at our booth.

People of all ages were curious and excited to stop by our booth to try their hand at Safety Plinko. Children were eager to play and delighted to take home prizes – outlet guards, cooling towels, safety glasses and earplugs – to help keep them safe from hazards at home. In less than two weeks, our representatives handed out hundreds of informational pamphlets and thousands of safety giveaways to fairgoers.

The plink, plink, plink of chips dropping down the board drew a crowd and brought smiles to entire families. Kids were most attracted to the colorful safety glasses they could wear, just like their parents. To earn prizes, we asked Plinko players questions to help promote awareness and educate them (in a fun way) on how to be Safe at Work and Safe at Home.

Participants appreciated the insight on common safety practices for home and the workplace, and our employees were excited to provide potentially life-saving information to everyone from grandparents on down to school-age children. The fair was also a chance for us to talk about our Division of Safety & Hygiene’s programs and services available to Ohio employers at no extra cost.

The Ohio State Fair was an outstanding venue for us to reach the public and educate Ohioans on ways to protect themselves on and off the clock. Thanks to all who stopped by our booth!

Related
Handout – Safe at Work, Safe at Home