A New Approach to Preventing Workplace Injuries

Metal Roof Roll Forming Machine

While overall workplace injuries have been falling in the last decade, the numbers of deadly and catastrophic injuries are actually on the rise.

A new report recommends that employers focus their injury prevention efforts on reviewing accidents that could have resulted in serious injury or death, as well as on near misses, where a potentially serious accident was narrowly avoided.

The “Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention: Perspectives and Practices” report, by the Campbell Institute, recommends that employers focus on their internal processes that could lead to serious injuries and fatalities, rather than on human error itself.

They should focus on identifying and fixing holes in their safety management system, examine their workplace culture, and change or modify work processes so as to eliminate the chances of human error affecting safety.

The report recommends that organizations don’t put the blame on the injured worker, but instead take a look at internal factors that contributed to an accident. To identify events or near events that could have led to serious injury or death, the prevention model in the report recommends focusing on and studying:

  • Precursors to accidents
  • Near misses
  • All recordable injuries

By identifying potential precursors to such events and educating employees about those precursors, companies can focus on eliminating the potential for accidents to occur in the first place.

One key component of this method is to identify which smaller accidents or near misses had the most potential to inflict serious injury or death.

Recommendations

Establish a system for reporting near misses. Consider:

  • Addressing issues such as workers being afraid of the consequences of reporting a near miss. Try to instill trust among your workers that they won’t be punished for a near miss, and that reporting them can help prevent future serious injuries.
  • Define what constitutes a near miss.
  • Include near-miss training during new employee orientations.
  • Get buy-in from management and supervisors to foster a culture of reporting near misses.
  • Make reporting simple and straightforward.
  • Make sure that your investigation includes a precise log of what led up to the near miss, as well as the root cause.
  • Take corrective action after conducting the investigation.

When rolling out the plan, hold a safety meeting explaining to employees why the company is focusing on the smaller incidents and near misses, and how a minor incident can turn major. Explain the importance of looking at potential rather than actual outcomes for minor incidents.

Try to be innovative in how you tackle workplace safety. For example, an article in Risk and Insurance magazine looked at a number of large employers that have worked with the criminology departments of nearby colleges to analyze injuries and near misses, in order to help identify what they could have done to prevent them.
The magazine’s report found that employers that used this method saw significant reductions in the number of workplace injuries they experienced.

OSHA Not Letting Up on Inspections, Penalties

industrial safety

Despite expectations, Fed-OSHA under the Trump administration has not backed off on enforcing workplace safety regulations.

In fact, the agency is as aggressive as ever and citations are higher than ever as well, after fines were increased substantially three years ago. Based on the agency’s own statistics, a company that’s inspected has only a 25% chance of not receiving a single citation.

In other words, employers should not let up on their safety regimens to not only avoid being cited but also to avoid workplace injuries, which nobody wants.

Here’s what’s going on with OSHA.

Enforcement emphasis still going strong – There are more than 150 local and regional enforcement emphasis programs as well as nine national programs in effect that were implemented at the end of the Obama administration. OSHA is dutifully enforcing them all.

Budget bucks the trend – Despite the budget-cutting at many federal agencies, OSHA saw a $5 million increase in its fiscal year 2019 budget from the year prior. Most notably, that was the first budget increase since 2014. In addition, state-run OSHA programs also received a small budget enhancement of $2 million.

Fines increasing – There has been no attempt to reverse the maximum fines for workplace safety violations. They were increased substantially in 2016, thanks to new regulations that require that the fines be increased every year after to keep up with inflation.

At the start of 2015, the maximum fines were:
• Serious or other-than-serious posting requirements: $7,000
• Failure to abate beyond initial violation date: $7,000 per day the condition continues
• Willful or repeat violations: $70,000

For 2019, the following fines apply (and they increased about 2.5% across the board):
• Serious or other-than-serious posting requirements: Up to $13,260
• Failure to abate beyond initial violation date: Up to $13,260 per day
• Willful or repeat violations: Minimum of $9,472, up to $132,598

Inspections stable – The number of inspections has stayed the same as years prior.

Focus on repeat violators – A continued focus on repeat violations has continued, with 5.1% of all violations in this category. The percentage has been over 5% since FY2016.

General duty clause – There has been continued expansion of the general duty clause to cite employers for heat stress, ergonomics, workplace violence, and chemical exposures below the permissible exposure limit.

New emphasis

And 2018 also saw a new effort by OSHA to fine-tune its work. It issue a memo in May that formalized the use of drones (with the employer’s consent) to collect evidence. This has been somewhat controversial because it could enhance its ability to find other violations it might not normally find.

According to the Fiscal Year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, increased enforcement seems to be more likely than a decrease. It also seems, although there have been no officially released statements, that the new electronic injury and illness reporting information will be used by OSHA and state plans to increase enforcement.

The increased budget, according to the Congressional Budget Justification, will support additional compliance safety and health officers to provide a greater enforcement presence and provide enhanced technical assistance to employers who need help in understanding how to achieve compliance with OSHA standards.

Protect Outdoor Workers Against the Elements of Winter

If you have outdoor workers or staff that will have to venture out into the elements during an especially cold winter, you need to make sure you are taking the correct precautions to keep them safe.

If the conditions are extremely harsh, your workers are at heightened danger of injury, or worse. But even if you have employees who are outside for short periods, they can also suffer injuries if they are not prepared.

The many dangers of winter

Winter can bring with a number of dangers to your outdoor workers:

  • Cold or frigid temperatures
  • High winds
  • Damp air
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Contact with water
  • Frostbite
  • Hypothermia
  • Risk of strains, slips and falls
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased performance

OSHA has the following recommendations for protecting your workers:

Check the forecast – A supervisor should check the forecast for the next day before the end of the shift the day prior, to alert workers about any precautions they should take.

Appropriate clothing – Workers should have proper clothing suited for working in cold-weather conditions. Clothing from thermal underwear to gloves and jackets are the first line of defense against cold weather. Consider these tips for your employees:

  • Wear three layers of clothing. Start with insulating underwear – which traps perspiration – a middle layer that protects the body from precipitation, and an outer layer that allows ventilation and prevents overheating.
  • Cotton is not always a good choice. Wool, silk and some synthetic fabrics are better at keeping skin dry even when it’s raining or the worker is sweating.
  • Wear loose clothing. Tight clothing can trap moisture and lower body temperature.
  • Protect your extremities. That means head, hands and feet. Wear a warm cap or hat, insulating gloves and two pairs of socks and insulated shoes.
  • Carry an extra set of clothing in case something happens and a worker has to change.

Train workers – They should be trained on how to prevent and recognize cold-stress illnesses and injuries, and how to apply first aid treatment. Workers should be trained on the appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress.

Workers should be aware of their body signals – Teach your employees about the symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration and report any symptoms they are experiencing to supervisors, who should know how to summon help and protect the worker.

The symptoms of hypothermia are:

Mild symptoms:

  • The worker may begin to shiver and stomp their feet in order to generate heat.

Moderate to severe symptoms:

  • As the body temperature continues to fall, symptoms will worsen and shivering will stop.
  • The worker may lose coordination and fumble with items in the hand, and become confused and disoriented.
  • They may be unable to walk or stand.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Slowing pulse and breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness can occur.
The symptoms of frostbite are:
  • Reddened skin develops gray/white patches.
  • Numbness in the affected body part.
  • The affected part feels firm or hard.
  • Blisters may occur in the affected part, in severe cases.

Eat healthy, stay hydrated – Employers should stress the importance of a healthy diet to help workers power through harsh weather. They should be told to regularly drink warm water or warm sweetened fluids throughout the day.

Ask that they always eat breakfast before working outside, to give the body the fuel it needs. Also ask them to avoid excessive drinking the night before work.