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October 2008

September 2008

Accident Investigation: Finding the Positive in the Negative

The title above may sound like a contradiction. But actually, examining an accident in detail—and this includes the minor ones and even near misses, too—can provide valuable insight and ultimately prevention techniques. Unfortunately, many organizations do the bare minimum when it comes to accident investigation. And a sorry fact is some companies do absolutely nothing and they are totally missing the boat.

Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more detailed the accident investigation. Small- to midsized-employers often don’t believe they have the expertise or the time. Another barrier to a proper accident investigation beside resources is company culture. I personally have seen organizations spend the better part of a day trying to figure out why a dump truck is on its side and only 15 minutes looking into why a carpenter has conjunctivitis. In fact, some employers just hand the carpenter an accident report and say "fill this out" and that's the extent of the investigation! Talk about short-sighted. My point is many companies unintentionally hold an inanimate object more valuable than an employee. I know they don't do it intentionally and I guarantee they really care for the employees, but it's a chink in their safety culture.

Although trying to figure out what happened and how to prevent any recurrence is not difficult, there are certain steps that enhance any investigation no matter the size of the company:

  • Control the accident scene. Secure the site, give medical attention and abate the existing hazards.
  • Gather the facts. Discuss the incident with the injured person after medical treatment. Also talk with witnesses.
  • Determine the root cause(s). The smallest detail may point to the real cause. Ask “why” repeatedly.
  • Develop an action plan that eliminates the root causes. Correct hazardous conditions, assign persons responsible for each action and establish due dates.

MEMIC holds workshops that teach employers how to find the positive in these negative situations. In fact, if you’re a MEMIC policyholder, there are some Accident Investigation workshops coming up you may want to check out. If not, there are other trade organizations, state agencies and similar groups that do training. Another good resource is the Internet.  I typed in "accident investigation" in a search engine and hundreds of websites came up.

For those readers very comfortable with their investigation process, keep up the good work! But, for those who know they are deficient, now is a good time to make improvements in how you do business and improve your safety culture.

Crane Operator Licensing on the Horizon

For those readers who own, lease or otherwise involved with cranes on construction sites, you need to prepare for a licensing change that will require crane operators to take more training and pass a test. This is not new. Many organizations having been lobbying for a crane operator's qualification process for 10 years now. But it appears OSHA has accelerated its rule-making process due to recent accidents involving crane fatalities and the associated political pressure. The new rule will likely be in effect in a year.

The link below was forwarded to me by a fellow MEMIC safety consultant who's been around many cranes on many sites for more than 30 years. His name is Sonny Curtis and although most of his projects didn't have major hoisting issues, he’s seen all sorts of failures up to and including a fatality.

The main point Sonny made to me is that employers who use cranes regularly must start paying attention to potential crane operator licensing requirements. There's nothing worse than a $300,000 piece of equipment that you can't use because nobody's qualified. In fact, any company that has a fleet of cranes probably needs to start visiting the OSHA website to stay abreast of this proposed rulemaking.

National Preparedness Month

Did you know September is National Preparedness Month? The timing couldn't be better considering the recent weather events like Hurricane Ike. Here in the Northeast we don't get many hurricanes and very few tornadoes. If you live somewhere that does, you’re likely more in tune with having emergency plans made and supplies ready.

But I bet there's a number of New Englanders reading this who’ve been through an ice storm, a three-day snowstorm or a microburst that disrupts everyday life. Then add other troubles—man-made ones—that could shut down your business for a long while or for good: a computer virus, a fire or a terrorist attack.

I was just talking with a MEMIC coworker, Schelene Shevchenko, who is our resident expert in what’s called business continuity, about how everyone can relate to a disaster in some way and yet, relating to a disaster and being prepared for one are two different things.

Here’s some advice Schelene shares on how you can prepare to stay in business if disaster strikes:

  • Prioritize functions. Figure out how long you could go without each of your business’s functions, then prioritize processes in the order they must be up and running after a shutdown.
  • Get numbers and names. Gather address, telephone and emergency contact information for each employee. Also get contact information for your customers, vendors, regulators, board members and other stakeholders with whom you may need or want to communicate during an outage.
  • Create chains of command. If one of your leaders is unavailable in an emergency, who will fill their shoes?  
  • Create emergency teams. You may need several teams that exist only during a particular crisis. For example, do you need a team to restore your facility? One to order replacement equipment?
  • Establish communication strategies. During an emergency and recovery effort, determine ways to keep in touch with employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders, keeping in mind that you might not have all of your everyday business tools at your disposal.  
  • Document how to carry out important functions and cross train. Are there functions that only one or two people perform at your organization? Document those processes so others know how to step in if that person is unavailable during a disaster.
  • Protect documents. Keep copies of vital documents (paper, electronic or both) stored off-site. 
  • Protect data. Your data is among your most important assets. Make sure your data is backed up regularly and stored off-site. Also have a recovery plan for telecommunications and computer systems.
  • Click here to download full version of “Continuity Plan Basics”

Other resources: 

Chainsaw Safety Review

This is the time of the year when many homeowners prepare for the coming winter by stockpiling firewood. There’s always a large contingent who cut up their own firewood as part of this annual ritual, and those folks likely will use a chainsaw to do it.

What logging professionals know that homeowners may not is how inherently unsafe this task is. The logging industry has long been among the most dangerous of professions. At its worst point, the industry infamously held an average annual fatality rate 23 times higher than all other U.S. industries.

A logger would tell you that these weekend woodcutter's are even at greater risk because they're using a very dangerous tool on a part-time basis. A chainsaw can:

  • move up to 45 mph,
  • have  more than 600 teeth passing a given point per second, and
  • reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

With that in mind, a brief safety review would be pertinent.

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE is your last line of defense against injury. Always wear the suggested PPE, which includes but is not limited to hat, gloves and eye protection, and make sure it’s in serviceable condition.
  • Chainsaw safety features: Make sure your saw has the necessary safety features and verify they’re in serviceable condition before use.
  • Bar and chain maintenance and filing: A properly maintained bar and chain keeps your saw operating at peak performance as well as reduces stress on your body and minimizes the chance for injury.
  • Chain brake use: The chain brake should be used whenever starting the saw, taking more than a few steps with the saw running and when one hand comes off the saw to do work such as throw a piece of firewood.
  • Starting Technique: Proper starting technique minimizes the wear and tear on the saw and your body, and reduces the chance for injury:
    o chain brake on
    o decompression on, if present
    o rear handle held firmly – saw on ground with foot holding rear handle or rear handle gripped between legs
    o no people or obstacles in immediate work area
  • Click here to download more chainsaw safety tips.

Here is another well-written review of the basics that include the four must dos, how to choose a saw and what to wear:

More good information:

Protection through Inspection

“The right tool for the job” is an old saying. And it turns out it’s a good safety saying too. Although it may conjure up a construction or manufacturing setting, there isn’t a workplace where it doesn’t ring true. One example of the wrong tool for the job is an office worker who uses a chair to reach the top shelf. Another is a healthcare worker who lifts a patient without using a mechanical aid because "it's in the other wing." No matter the setting, if the proper tool is not used when needed, you're in the high risk zone right out of the gate.

Even if you have the right tool, there's a second consideration that is just as important. Is the tool in serviceable condition? If it's the right tool and it's in good shape, I predict you’ll have a great day at work. If it's the right tool and it’s defective, you may be worse off using it. This brings us to the matter of proper inspection.

I obviously don't have enough space in this blog to get into specifics. Too many tools, too many workplaces. But there is one universal resource that can dial up the proper inspection process for whatever tool or equipment you’re using and it’s called the manufacturer’s information or manual. Not only will it give you the "what" but also the "how" and the "how often."

But one inherent flaw with this booklet is that it's typically the first thing to get tossed once the item is unpacked. If this is the situation you find yourself in, then head to the manufacturer’s website or contact the vendor who made the sale.

Two other items to consider on this topic are documentation and removal from service.

Documentation is another area where you need to keep it simple. Do you need to document the inspection of a 40-foot power cord every time you use it? Probably not realistic. However, if you’re doing an annual required inspection of that patient lifting device I mentioned earlier, then you’d certainly want that on file. Again, your manufacturer’s information will likely provide some direction.

The last thing in this overview of inspections involves taking something out of service. I personally have done several incident investigations where someone got hurt because the tool was defective and a coworker knew about it before the accident. Somehow the defective item needs to be taken out of service. There are many ways to do this including:

  • put a visible tag or other indicator on it so others know it's broken, 
  • have a dedicated area to bring defective items to, and 
  • render it inoperable if it cannot be repaired and put it in the trash.


Excellence in Safety Efforts: Why Size Doesn't Matter

I received an e-mail from an astute reader about National Underwriter’s recent recognition of three large companies for their loss control and injury management excellence. One of the points he made was that no matter the size of the company, the benefit of an injury-free workforce is exactly the same. The issues associated with on-the-job accidents such as medical costs and lost work time affect large and small operations in the same manner.

Now that's not to say that a mega-company with 150,000 people on the payroll won’t have it a little easier replacing somebody than a 15 person healthcare facility, but it's still an expense and creates a ripple effect in the workforce.

Annually, my company, MEMIC, recognizes top policyholders who strive for workers’ comp excellence. Nominations are made in the areas of workplace safety and claims management. A lot of these companies are not that large. But the true beneficiary—the workers—are the winners no matter how many are employed.

At the link listed below, you can see for yourself which large companies were awarded. I know you will recognize some of them, but the thing that stood out for me was at the end of the article. It's an overview of how each approached workplace safety. They aren't large corporate secrets or expensive initiatives. They are the very basics, proving size does not matter when you use proven approaches.

NUWC Risk Management Award Winners Share Secrets of Success

Stretching for Fun and Profit

I have a pretty good idea that a number of you will read this post’s title and say “that's crazy.” I honestly have to say I thought the same thing when I was first introduced to the idea of an employee stretch program years ago. I had a safety position with a large construction company and during that era we were all 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Stretching was not for construction workers—it was for office and factory workers.

But this stretching order came from high up, and we went kicking and dragging our feet. Then a funny thing happened. Slowly, the guys and gals started participating. We obviously had some folks who were so resistant to change that they did it halfheartedly, but within a month or two, they were in the minority.

Why did people begin to take it seriously?  In my estimation, there were a number of positives that outweighed the negatives:

  • They began to feel better. Limbering up and getting blood flowing into their muscles wasn't painful, especially for those who drove two hours to be there for 7 a.m.
  • Communications improved. The superintendent and foreman who led the stretches realized they had a captive audience and took advantage of it. Simple announcements like what time the concrete would arrive or when the power would go out were disseminated to everybody during stretch break and not just a few.
  • Group cohesion took hold. Nobody wanted to walk into the group when half the routine was done or not show up at all. Those who did could expect comments or advice on where to purchase a decent watch.
  • Injuries decreased. After 18 months, muscle strains and sprains were reduced by approximately 40%. That's a considerable savings considering the total employee population was about 1,200 at the time.

That company continues to benefit from stretch breaks to this day. In fact, many of the competitors and subcontractors who chuckled in those early years do the same stretches today simply because they can't afford not to. I have witnessed many MEMIC policyholders going through the same trials and tribulations. And they too have benefited from this basic loss control effort. 

Jumpstart or liven up your stretch break at work. Download MEMIC’s stretch poster and hang it right where employees gather to stretch:

Stretching for your health

If you care to read about a national manufacturing facility that also found success in a stretch program, than go to:

Employee stretching program pays off for P&H

Stretch safety net