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September 2016

How do we prevent workplace injuries?

KlattPosted by Randy Klatt, WCP

Preventing workplace injuries is easier said than done, but it is a manageable problem.  The key may be found in a quote from Walt Disney who once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” 

Almost everyone says they support safety, and every company owner says that safety is a priority.  Employees don’t want to get hurt, so why do we see so many workplace injuries?  So often organizations have the right policies in place, and they may conduct the proper training.  However, there is often no connection between safety administration and safe operations.  In essence they have done the “talking”, but they haven’t begun “doing”.  Following Walt’s advice could make a significant impact regarding injury prevention. 

For example, take a close look at your office ergonomics program.  If you do ergonomics training for all new hire employees, and recurrent training for all office staff you may think you’ve done all you can.  You may even offer dynamic workstations and the latest in ergonomically correct input devices.  But the questions to ask are these:  How are the employees actually interacting with their workstations on a daily basis?  Are they using those devices correctly?  Do they adjust the chair appropriately?  Do they stretch regularly?  An effective ergonomics program includes workstation evaluations, employee monitoring, and intervention when needed to correct bad habits or noncompliance.  If these last few pieces are not happening consistently then the “talking” is done, but the “doing” is missing.

Safety is sometimes an administrative activity; it could even be a collateral duty of the HR Manager.  If there is a Safety Manager, he or she may be responsible for training, OSHA compliance, and injury reporting.  But who’s responsible for safe behaviors?  Making the connection between administration and operations can make a huge impact on injury reduction.  But in order to do this the Safety Manager must have operational authority over the entire organization.  This safety person would then be able to correct any unsafe behaviors without delay.  Creating an immediate, and likely negative, consequence for unsafe behavior is often the only way to change behavior. 

Better yet, a safety committee with representatives from each department, all with operational authority, could better impact behavior within the entire organization.  Safety committees often have a meeting once a month (talking), but what happens between the meetings is the really important part (the doing).  Getting out onto the shop floor, into the offices, out to job sites, or into the company vehicles is the only way to see what is really happening.  Are employees following the rules?  Are they engaged in safe behaviors?  Are they taking shortcuts that have immediate positive impact on operations, but potentially a negative impact on safety?    

Ultimately the improvement in these areas can lead to a culture where every employee feels he or she is a safety team member.  If management properly supports safety then employees watch out for each other, they correct unsafe conditions or behaviors on their own, and they follow their training because it’s the right thing to do.  The safety program is working effectively and production no longer trumps safety.  So get out there and start doing!  You might be surprised at what you find.  For more information regarding effective safety programs check out the OSHA Safety and Health Management E-Tool.   


Traffic Fatalities Increase… Drive to Stay Alive

KlattPosted by Randy Klatt, WCP

[2017 Update: The National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year. That marks a 6% increase over 2015, and a 14% increase over 2014 – the most dramatic two-year escalation in more than 50 years. An estimated 4.6 million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in 2016, and estimated cost to society was $432 billion.]

The National Safety Council recently announced that traffic fatalities for 2015 rose significantly from the previous year.  The estimated 38,300 people killed on US roads represent the largest year for year increase in 50 years, and makes 2015 the deadliest year since 2008. 

Lower gasoline prices and job growth have had an impact on the number of miles driven in the last few years, but the rise in fatalities seems to be outpacing the rise in miles driven.  The following excerpt is taken directly from the National Safety Council:

"These numbers are serving notice: Americans take their safety on the roadways for granted," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO. "Driving a car is one of the riskiest activities any of us undertake in spite of decades of vehicle design improvements and traffic safety advancements. Engage your defensive driving skills and stay alert so we can reverse this trend in 2016."  

In a continuation of the bad news, preliminary numbers indicate this trend is continuing in 2016.  In the first six months of 2016 traffic fatalities increased 9% over 2015.  Add to this the 2.2 million people injured in crashes in those six months.  Every driver should be concerned; 100 people dying on the roads every day is simply unacceptable.  


So what do we do about this?  The increase in driving plays a part in the increase in fatal crashes, but so does complacency, distraction, speeding, and fatigue.  These are all factors that are within our control as average drivers.  Getting behind the wheel includes the inherent responsibility for our own safety, but also for the safety of everyone else we encounter on the roadway. 

Technology improvements have made vehicles safer than they have ever been.  Survivability rates in many models are unprecedented.  However, the driver is still the weak link in the chain and all the technology in the world currently does not make up for poor decision making.  The future may include driverless cars, but in 2016 we, the vehicle operators, are still responsible for nearly every crash that occurs. 

The solution to the problem is actually pretty straightforward:

  • Avoid driving when fatigued.
  • Plan your trip and leave with plenty of time to account for weather or traffic delays.
  • Follow the rules of the road… always.
  • Never mix driving with alcohol or drugs that may impair your ability to drive.
  • Never, never, never text while driving.
  • Let phone calls go to voice mail, and pull over to a safe area before making a cell phone call in the vehicle. No text or phone call is worth the increased risk of a crash.

For additional information regarding safe driving practices check out the resources available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Safety Council, and the National Transportation Safety Board.   Let’s all make a concerted effort to reverse this recent trend.  The life you save may be your own!

Assistance for the Addicted Workforce

         Westin Posted by Alexis Westin, MS, OHST

People around the country are in crisis mode when it comes to dealing with addiction, including many employers.  No matter where you are in the US today, there is an epidemic near you regarding the increased use and overdoses of opioids. August 2016 was another record month of over 200 overdoses in four states. The last week of August was frightening in regards to overdoses and death around the country:

  • 96 overdoses and 178 emergency visits due to overdoses in one Ohio county
  • 29 overdoses in two days in Camden, New Jersey
  • 27 overdoses in Huntington, West Virginia
  • 13 overdoses cases in Jennings County, Indiana

     Growth Fatal Drug Herion  (Time Magazine, March 2016)

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to keep in mind as an employer:

  • More than six percent of the population over 12 years of age (9 million people) has used drugs within the past thirty days. Rates of use remain highest among persons aged 16 to 25 – the age group entering the work force most rapidly.
  • Seventy-three percent of all current drug users aged 18 and older (8.3 million adults) are employed. This includes 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers.
  • Construction workers (15.6%); sales personnel (11.4%); food preparation, wait staff, and bartenders (11.2%); handlers, helpers, and laborers (10.6%,); and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use. Protective service workers reported the lowest rate of current drug use (3.2%).

Drugs affect employers in many ways including workplace safety.  Implementing a drug policy for the workplace can significantly reduce absenteeism, improve morale and productivity, and reduce accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft.  Companies with longstanding programs have shown that there are improvements to overall employee health including a decreased utilization of the company’s medical insurance benefits.  For information on establishing a comprehensive drug and alcohol program, check out this previous post by Dave Darnley.  State law differs widely regarding the requirements for implementing and maintaining a workplace drug policy, so policies should be approved by a legal professional proficient in your states laws.

State law also differ widely when it comes to prescription drug monitoring programs and limiting the strength and duration of opioid prescriptions.  25% of prescription costs in workers' compensation claims being opioid painkillers and it has been shown that if an injured worker is on an opioid based pain medication that the cost of their claim goes up about 4 times that of a similar claim without the opioid use.  This article by MEMIC’s Senior Vice President of Claims details how the most effective laws follow best practices developed by leaders in workers’ comp.

To assist employees with a known substance problem, look into your organization’s insurance policy to see if it covers a Life Assistance Program (LAP) or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Such programs can offer unlimited phone consultations and guidance for substance abuse rehabilitation options in your area.

If you are an employer and would like information about creating and implementing a prevention and treatment program for your employees, call the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s Workplace Helpline at 1-800-967-5752. The following resources provide more information about drug testing in the workplace, including drug-free requirements for Federal contractors and grantees and for certain transportation employees:

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), eLaws Drug-Free Workplace Advisor
The U.S. DOL, eLaws Drug-Free Workplace Advisor assists employers with creating customized drug-free workplace policies, and informs employers and employees about the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy & Compliance
The U.S. DOT, Office of Drug & Alcohol Policy & Compliance advises on national and international drug testing and control issues, and rules related to the drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation industries.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

From the Bangor Daily News, Maine suffers record number of fatal drug overdoses in first half of 2016:

OD deaths

Off the Chain!

LaRochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

When celebrity judge Mel B shouts “Off the chain!” on America’s Got Talent she’s praising the act for a spectacular performance.  When the same might be blurted out in a manufacturing facility using alloy steel chain slings to hoist large fixtures and other heavy objects, it typically means trouble.  Used for their strength, durability, and abrasion resistance, the failure of an alloy steel chain sling with a suspended load can have catastrophic consequences for the operator and expensive machining equipment.  For this reason, OSHA incorporates specific requirements in their Slings standard, 29 CFR 1910.184, on the identification, attachments, inspections, proof testing, safe operating temperatures, repair and reconditioning, wear effects, and deformed attachments for this versatile type of sling.

The identification of a new alloy steel chain sling from the manufacturer will specify the size, grade, rated load, and length along with the number of legs, a serial number, and name or trademark of the manufacturer all on a durable tag.  OSHA requires these slings to be inspected by a designated competent person each day before use and periodically depending on frequency of use and service conditions at intervals no greater than 12 months.  OSHA’s Guidance on Safe Sling Use lists the following items to be looked at during the sling inspection.

  • Wear,
  • Defective welds,
  • Nicks, cracks, breaks, gouges, stretch, bends, discoloration due to excessive heat,
  • Excessive pitting or corrosion,
  • Throat opening of hooks,
  • Missing or illegible sling identifications, and
  • Other conditions that cause doubt as to continued safe use of the sling.

Chain slings noted with any of these defects or deterioration need to be immediately removed from service but can be repaired, reconditioned, and proof tested by the sling manufacturer or a qualified person.  Additionally, slings need to be removed from service if the hooks are “cracked, have been opened more than 15 percent of the normal throat opening measured at the narrowest point or twisted more than 10 degrees from the plane of the unbent hook.”  A log or other record needs to be maintained by the employer on the inventoried and inspected chain slings.

Vigilance by the employer to thorough inspection, proper service condition, and recordkeeping of alloy steel chain slings could be regarded as a class act worthy of a Mel B congratulatory exclamation.

MEMIC policyholders have access to a sling sample safety program in the Safety Director Resource Library.

Steel chain