The Hidden Costs of Workplace Accidents

Police Line Do Not CrossIf there is an accident in your workplace, it can result in damaged products, hospitalization costs, and perhaps some lost productivity while the aftermath is cleaned up. But once everybody is back to work, that’s the end of it, right?

Wrong! The truth is that even a single workplace accident can cost businesses an astronomical amount of money. And the costs can keep on piling up for months or even years after the actual accident has been forgotten.

Productivity Costs

When an accident occurs, business as usual typically stops — at least temporarily. But this momentary pause in productivity can cause timeframes to be thrown off schedule, deadlines to be missed, and customers left without the products or services they are expecting.

If there is an injury that requires recovery time, the business can be left shorthanded, affecting productivity even further. Completion of projects may be delayed.

Maintenance and Equipment Costs

A direct result of a workplace accident is damage to equipment or the physical property of the business. The cost of repairing or replacing damaged or destroyed property can be high.

There can even be long-term bookkeeping consequences. If a particular piece of equipment such as a forklift, conveyor system, or other big ticket item has to be replaced, the accrual of that property has to start all over from scratch. That not only will affect the business’s annual operating budget for the current year but for many years to come, not to mention the potential tax implications of lost depreciation of the damaged equipment.

Legal Costs 

In many instances, a person injured in an accident may sue the business, which can result in high legal expenses. Attorneys fees, court costs, and settlements can cost huge amounts of money. And even if the business successfully defends itself against the lawsuit, the company’s legal expenses will likely go up, along with its insurance premiums.

At the very least, the company may have to pay an injured employee’s salary during their recuperation. And because the worker is not adding anything to productivity, that expense comes right out of the bottom line.

Reducing Costs by Reducing Accidents

All of these costs can be avoided altogether if the workplace accident never occurs. Implementing workplace safety programs, employee training, and careful supervision can eliminate dangers and reduce accidents.

While these measures may require a little upfront investment on the part of ownership, it can be a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term costs of a single workplace accident.

 

Creating a Culture of Safety Starts from the Top Down

weldingAt some point or another in their careers, just about everybody has worked at a place where most of their co-workers just didn’t seem to care much about what happens.

Inaccurate or damaged orders may have been shipped without being double checked. Safety standards may have been ignored or glossed over. And “looking the other way” may have been more common than actually caring about what was going on.

Odds are you didn’t stick around very long at that company.

Most people genuinely want to care about what they do. So when conscientious employees they find themselves in an organization where people don’t care — especially about something as important as safety — the first thing they usually look for is the door.

Creating a Company Culture

So what differentiates a business that is committed to safety and one that could care less? Typically, it has to do with the company’s culture.

Some companies define their culture by means of a written “Mission Statement”. For others, it’s more about the attitude people bring to their jobs every day. Both are defined by the business’s leadership.

When ownership doesn’t care, it’s nearly impossible for its employees to care. But when the company’s leaders are passionate about safety and continually reinforce their values to employees, it’s much easier for rank-and-file workers to get on board.

As it turns out, attitude is infectious.

Leading by Example

Employees naturally look to their leaders for attitude cues. If supervisors, managers, and executives don’t care about safety, then those working beneath them won’t either.

Creating a happy and safe work environment starts from the top down. Ownership needs to prioritize safety in every aspect of the organization. Only then will others follow suit.

But it goes beyond simply saying that you care about safety. Everybody on the management team — from the C-suite to line-level supervisors — needs to take a hands-on approach to workplace safety, walking the floors, spotting problems and correcting them immediately, and actively reinforcing to employees that they genuinely care about creating a safe workplace.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Actions, not just words or mission statements, are what create a corporate culture. Front line workers won’t be fooled by lip service when it comes to workplace safety. They need to see that the people in charge prioritize safe practices and genuinely care about their well-being.

Otherwise, they are going to take the path of least resistance and you will have a “toxic workplace” where workers simply don’t care.

Power Lines One of the Most Common Hazards of Working Outdoors

The thing about power lines is that they are everywhere. Rural areas, urban areas, suburbs, you name it. No matter where you are working, look up and there are bound to be overhead power lines.

Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jinu Raghavan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Touching an electrical line can result in instant electrocution, causing serious injury or even death. In fact, about 119 people were killed by overhead power line electrocution in the US between 2008 and 2010, accounting for about 4% of all occupational fatalities.

But you don’t have to touch a power line in order to be electrocuted. Electricity can jump to anybody who gets too close. So it’s a good idea to stay at least 10 feet away from power lines and their connections.

Avoiding Power Line Dangers

The most common reason workers get electrocuted by power lines is that they forget to look up when raising a ladder or pole. It’s a simple thing but one that can easily be ignored.

Electricity naturally wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone and it won’t let anything stand in its way, including your body.

Whenever possible, workers should use wooden or fiberglass ladders when working outdoors. Neither of these will easily conduct electricity, unlike metal or aluminum ladders.

If a co-worker is electrocuted by a power line, don’t touch them because the electricity can pass from their body into yours. Instead call 911 immediately. If you have to knock them off when they are hung up, use something that won’t conduct electricity, like a wooden 2X4.

Downed Power Lines

Watch where you are going so you don’t accidentally step on a live downed wire. Contact the utility company immediately to report a downed power line.

Always assume that a fallen power line is live, staying at least 10 feet away from it. There’s no way to tell by looking at it whether there is electricity running through it or not.

Make sure the power line isn’t touching anything that can conduct its electricity, such as a metal fence, pooling water, or even a tree limb. Even the ground around a live power line can be energized, up to 35 feet away.

Other Precautions

The best way to move away from a live wire is to shuffle using small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This minimizes the risk for the electricity jumping to your body.

Don’t drive over a downed power line. If your car somehow comes into contact with a live wire while you are inside it, stay in the car. Honk your car to summon help but warn other people to stay away from your vehicle.

This Year’s National Safety Stand-Down to Focus on Falls

Falls killed 350 construction workers in 2015, making it the leading cause of death in the construction industry. More than one out of every three fatal falls were from heights of 15 feet or less. And one in four deadly falls were from ladders.

Image courtesy of OSHA
Image courtesy of OSHA

These are just some of the statistics to be highlighted during this year’s National Safety Stand-Down, the annual workplace safety event being held this week and sponsored by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Preventing Falls through Awareness

As part of the week-long event, the National Roofing Contractors Association hosted a free webinar Monday to discuss the hazards present after a worker has fallen from a roof and the personal fall-arrest system or harness has been deployed.

And on Wednesday the organization will host a live Facebook chat to talk about trending roofing and construction safety topics.

Local National Safety Stand-Down Events

In addition to online events, local events are being held nationwide at local businesses, construction sites, college campuses, union halls, and other places.

In Chicago, the Polish American Contractors and Builders Association will hold a presentation on the types and use of fall protection equipment. The event will be at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9.

In Evansville, Indiana, business owners, employers, and others are invited to participate in the annual safety campaign to prevent falls, which will feature educational presentations, safety program best practices, and OSHA statistics. The event will be held at the Health Professional Building, at 8600 University Blvd., Room 1027, at 11 a.m.

And in Madison, Wisconsin, a representative of Capital Safety will demonstrate the various types of fall protection available for construction operations and answer questions about personal fall protection systems. The event will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 16, at Witte Hall, on the University of Wisconsin campus, at 615 Johnson St.

Highlighting Workplace Safety

The safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event that encourages employers to talk directly to workers about safety. Any workplace can participate by taking a break to focus on fall hazards and reinforcing the importance of fall prevention, including the use of personal fall protection equipment such as harnesses.

OSHA will provide free materials to promote discussions on topics like conducting safety equipment inspections, developing rescue plans, or discussion job specific hazards. Employers can also download a certificate of participation that can be presented to employees participating in the event.

The federal agency is also encouraging participants to post videos and infographics on social media using the hashtag #StandDown4Safety.

 

 

How to Extinguish Different Types of Workplace Fires

Fire ExtinguisherThrow water on a grease fire and it will get bigger. Use a fire hose on an electrical fire and you could put everybody in the vicinity in danger of an electrical shock.

Knowing how to extinguish different types of workplace fires does more than just cut down on property damage. It also could prevent small fires from turning into major disasters.

Here are the proper ways to distinguish several different types of fires you may encounter in the workplace.

Electrical Fires

If a fire erupts in an electrical breaker box or a piece of electrical equipment starts burning, the first thing you want to do is cut the power source, if possible.

For breaker boxes, try to cut the main power supply. For appliances and other electrical equipment, pull the plug. Then try to smother the fire using a blanket or a Type C fire extinguisher, which is rated for electrical fires.

Cooking Fires

One of the most common locations for workplace fires is the community kitchen. If a pot or pan catches fire, shut off the stove or oven then smother the flames with a lid. Don’t turn on the exhaust system because this can pull the flames up into the hood.

If there isn’t one available, you can use salt or baking soda to smother small oil fires. Or you can use a Type B fire extinguisher.

The last thing you want to do is to throw water on an oil fire. The flash point of water is lower than that of most oils, so this can cause the water itself to erupt in flames.

Ventilate the area only after you are sure all the flames are put out.

Gas Fires

If a gas fuel source such as propane or natural gas catches fire, shut off the gas supply. You can try to smother the flames with a rug, blanket, or class B extinguisher, or cool with water.

In some cases, it is better to let gas fires burn rather than try to extinguish the fire because this can cause the gas to fill the room or building, creating a higher explosion hazard.

For larger fires that can’t easily be controlled, evacuate people from the building and call the fire department. Your local firefighters are trained on how to combat any type of fire, explosion, or gas leak.

Remember that the lives and safety of your employees are always more important than property. You can replace things, but you can’t replace a lost human life.

 

Here Are the Top 10 Ways Your Workers Probably Will Get Injured

South Carolina National Guard at flickr.com
South Carolina National Guard at flickr.com

As any business owner can tell you, workplaces can be hazardous to employees. Every year, more than $50 billion is spent on worker disability claims.

The saddest part is that most workplace injuries can be easily avoided if a few simple changes are made. Identifying risks within the workplace and making corrections, retraining workers to follow safe practices, and installing and using ergonomically beneficial tools and products can significantly reduce the number or injuries and claims payouts.

Focus on Safety

While every workplace is unique, the insurance company Liberty Mutual recently conducted an analysis of the most common workplace injuries. by focusing on just these 10 issues, many businesses will be able to substantially alleviate their amount of risk.

Here, then, are the Top 10 Most Common Accidents Resulting in Disability Claims, as identified by Liberty Mutuals 2016 Workplace Safety Index.

Overexertion Involving an Outside Source

This alone accounted for nearly 25% of all injuries resulting in direct costs to employers. This category includes injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying, or throwing objects. Overexertion involving an outside source costs US businesses $15.08 billion in direct costs, according to the report.

Training employees on proper lifting techniques, providing the appropriate lifting equipment, and properly supervising employees to make sure they are always following safety guidelines and acting appropriately in the workplace can reduce these types of accidents.

Falls on the Same Level

This category costs businesses $10.17 billion and accounted for 16.4% of the total injury burden to US companies. It includes workers falling on flat surfaces, either while carrying materials or while simply walking or standing.

Requiring workers to wear non-skid shoes and keeping floor surfaces free from oils, debris, and other hazards can help significantly reduce the risk of slip and fall accidents.

Falls to a Lower Level

This was the third-ranked risk and cost $5.4 billion in claims. Falls from heights typically results in more serious injuries that can result in higher injury claims.

This type of injury is one of the easiest to prevent. Simply walk through your workplace and identify areas where there is a difference between levels. Installing railings, chains, or other protective devices — as well as warning signs — in these areas should eliminate most of these injuries immediately.

Other Common Causes of Workplace Injuries

Rounding out the list were:

  • Struck by an Object or Equipment
  • Other Exertions or Bodily Reactions
  • Roadway Incidents Involving Motorized Land Vehicle
  • Slip or Trip without Fall
  • Caught In/Compressed by Equipment or Objects
  • Struck Against Object or Equipment
  • Repetitive Motions Involving Micro-Tasks

 

Labor Department Offers Safety Help to Smaller-Sized Contractors

protective eye gearWhile the biggest construction contractors often have teams of safety and health specialists on staff to help identify and eliminate safety hazards, smaller-scale contractors who make up the majority of construction businesses are generally on their own.

Until now, that is. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued a new guide designed to help small to medium sized construction companies develop their own proactive safety programs that can improve workplace safety and reduce the amount of workplace injuries.

The guidelines are outlined in a new PDF document entitled “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs in Construction”, which can be downloaded for free HERE.

Keeping Workers Safe

The idea is for contractors to use the document to create health and safety programs using simple steps that anybody can follow, including training workers on how to identify and control hazards themselves, inspecting job sites together with line-level workers to identify potential problems with equipment and materials, and developing effective responses to emergency scenarios before they happen.

The benefit of the new OSHA guide is that it can be scaled to fit practically any sized construction business, from the smallest two-person operation working on short-term projects to larger companies with dozens of employees working on multi-year jobs, according to Dr. David Michaels, assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.

“The recommendations outlined in this document will help contractors prevent injuries and illnesses on their construction sites and make their companies more profitable,” Michaels said in a news release announcing the release of the guide.

Benefits of Increased Workplace Safety

Implementing the recommendations outlined in the new OSHA guide will do more than just reduce workplace injuries and make job sites safer. It also can help improve productivity and quality, improve employee morale, and even improve employee recruitment and retention.

Small- to medium-sized companies that institute better workplace safety standards can benefit from a more favorable image and reputation among clients, suppliers, and peers within the industry. And as any contractor can tell you, your construction business is only as good as its reputation.

Even if contractors already have a safety program in place, it’s a good idea to review the recommendations because there are always new construction techniques, materials, and equipment being introduced into the industry.

There’s also more diversity today in the overall construction workforce. So people from different backgrounds — who often speak different languages — are often working side by side. Plus, the aging workforce and the rise of a sedentary lifestyle means that more workers than ever before are a higher risk for work-related injuries.

 

Harvest Time Is a Good Time to Review Grain Worker Safety

Image courtesy of OSHA
Image courtesy of OSHA

Every fall, thousands of farms begin the process of harvesting millions of tons of corn, wheat, oats, barley, soybeans and other agricultural products. It’s an annual tradition that has been the backbone of the US agricultural industry since the country began.

But working with grain has its risks and every year agricultural workers are injured or killed in accidents at grain elevators, feed mills, flour mills, dust pelletizing plants, and other grain handling facilities.

Grain Industry Hazards

Hazards include fires and explosion from built-up grain dust, suffocation from workers being engulfed or trapped in grain bins, falls from heights, and crushing injuries from falling or collapsing grain handling equipment.

Already this year, at least six agricultural workers have been injured or killed in grain-related accidents. One of the most recent occurred Sept. 19, when a 28-year-old employee of the Ellsworth Co-Op, in Ellsworth, Kansas, stepped into an open auger well inside a grain bin while the auger was running, according to federal investigators. The worker lost his left leg.

A similar accident occurred Sept. 1, when a 59-year-old man suffered severe leg injuries when his overalls became caught in a sweep auger inside a bin at Trotter Grain, in Litchfield, Nebraska.

Moving Equipment Risks

Augers aren’t the only dangerous equipment in grain handling facilities. Conveyors also are a risk. Workers can easily get fingers, hands, arms or legs caught in moving mechanical equipment, especially if moving parts are not properly covered.

Storage facilities such as silos can also be dangerous. Spoiling grain can cause gasses to form. Or fumigants commonly used for insect control can leak. Either of these can cause workers to be overcome and fall into the grain, where they can become engulfed and suffocate.

Protecting Agricultural Workers

But there are steps agricultural businesses can take to help protect workers.

When workers enter storage bins, they need to make sure that powered equipment such as augers used to move grain is turned off. It’s dangerous to stand on moving grain, which can act like “quicksand”, burying workers in just seconds.

Workers also should walk on grain to help it flow. Walking down grain and similar practices are extremely hazardous.

Employees entering a grain bin should be provided with a lifeline, or a boatswain chair, that harnesses their body so they can be pulled out safely should they become engulfed by grain.

There also should be a spotter standing outside the bin. Two-person teams allow one person to provide assistance to the person going into the grain bin.

Harvest time comes every year. So it’s a good idea to review grain handling safety procedures prior to every harvest so that all workers are kept safe.

 

 

OSHA Regulations Pertaining to Powered Industrial Trucks – Part II – Training

Proper use of forklifts is essential for high productivity, efficiency, and safe warehouse operations. (South Carolina National Guard at flickr.com)
Proper use of forklifts is essential for high productivity, efficiency, and safe warehouse operations.
(South Carolina National Guard at flickr.com)

In Part I of my series describing OSHA’s regulation 1910.178 on Powered Industrial Trucks, I covered the responsibilities of the warehouse manager, program administrator, supervisors, and employees pertaining to the safe use of powered industrial trucks.

In this article, Part II of the series, I will discuss what OSHA expects warehouses to do concerning training a forklift operator.

Training a forklift operator is one of the most essential responsibilities of a warehouse. Proper training assures better productivity and a more efficient and safe operation.

OSHA requires that a warehouse offer a training program for new or potential forklift operators. It also requires that the training include formal instruction and hands-on activity as well as a demonstration by the trainee that he has learned the skills necessary for operating a powered industrial truck safely. The trainee is not permitted to operate a forklift without continual supervision until he has been certified. Certification serves as proof that he has been trained and evaluated. Certification must include the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation, and the name of the individual who did the training and evaluation.

OSHA requires that during the training process, the forklift operator trainee operate a vehicle only under the direct supervision of a person who has the knowledge, training and experience to evaluate competence and when such operation does not endanger the trainee or other warehouse employees.

Annual retraining is not required. However, a warehouse must evaluate a driver’s performance at least every three years and provide refresher training if appropriate.

Refresher training must be performed when:

·      The operator was seen operating a forklift in an unsafe manner.
·      The operator was involved in an accident or near miss.
·      The operator receives an evaluation that he has not been operating the vehicle safely.
·      The operator is assigned to drive a different type of vehicle.
·      A condition in the workplace changes that could affect the safe operation of a vehicle.

Training Program Content

OSHA requires that the training include information on the characteristics of the forklift the employee will be operating as well as the condition of the environment in which the vehicle is operated.

The training session should cover characteristics of the vehicle the employee will be operating including:

·      Operating instructions, warnings, and precautions
·      Differences between an automobile and the powered industrial vehicle
·      Location and function of the controls and instrumentation
·      Engine or motor operation
·      Steering and maneuvering
·      Visibility
·      Operation and limitation of the forks and other attachments
·      Vehicle capacity and stability.
·      Vehicle inspection and maintenance procedures
·      Refueling or charging/recharging batteries
·      Operating limitations
·      Safety equipment
·      Any other operating instructions, warning, or precautions described in the operator’s manual.

The operating environment covered should include:

·      Floor surfaces and ground conditions on which the vehicle is operated
·      Composition of probable loads and load stability
·      Load lifting, stacking, and unstacking
·      Traveling with a load
·      Pedestrian traffic
·      Narrow aisle and restricted space operation
·      Operating in hazardous locations
·      Operating the vehicles on ramps or other sloped surfaces that would affect stability
·      Operating the vehicle when driving into a trailer including the proper use of dock plates and ramps, trailer safety and choking/blocking the trailer wheels
·      Other unique or potentially hazardous environmental conditions that exist or may exist in the workplace
·      Operating the vehicle in closed environments and other areas where insufficient ventilation and/or poor vehicle maintenance could cause a buildup of carbon monoxide or diesel exhaust

(Next time: Pre-use inspections and operating procedures)

June 16th Will Be National Forklift Safety Day

Photo courtesy of Toyota Forklifts at flickr.com
Photo courtesy of Toyota Forklifts at flickr.com

Mark your calendars: Tuesday, June 16th is National Forklift Safety Day.

The third annual event is sponsored by the Industrial Truck Association and its purpose is to bring more focus to the safe use of forklifts and the importance or providing the appropriate training to forklift operators.

According to the ITA, National Forklift Safety Day provides an opportunity for industry leaders to educate forklift users and lawmakers on the administration of safe forklift operational practices.

Talking About Safety

Businesses and individuals that use forklifts are encouraged to set aside some time on Tuesday to discuss forklift safety and review training procedures. The idea is that spending a little time talking about forklift safety on a day dedicated to the issue will help promote safe practices all year round, according to the ITA.

“Forklift safety has many aspects,” the group stated in a news release announcing this year’s event. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces regulations governing the manufacture and operation of powered industrial trucks. The Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation … administers the development of consensus safety standards for manufacturing and using industrial trucks. These standards reflect the considered judgment of industry, government safety officials, users, and private safety experts on issues of forklift safety.”

More to Safety then Just Rules

But that’s not all there is to forklift safety, says the ITA.

“OSHA has incorporated these consensus standards by reference into the federal regulations,” the group stated. “Updating the consensus standards and working to have them recognized in the federal regulation is an ongoing process. But safety doesn’t come from writing good standards and regulations. It comes from knowing and following them. In other words, it comes from our awareness and commitment.”

And that’s why National Forklift Safety Day is so important: It enhances the industry’s awareness and renews its commitment to forklift safety.

National Forklift Safety Day Events

In recognition of National Forklift Safety Day, the ITA will sponsor an event June 14 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. The event will feature speakers from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the federal agency responsible for implementing forklift safety rules in workplaces nationwide — as well as from the National Safety Council.

The chairman of the Congressional subcommittee that oversees OSHA and key industry representatives also are expected to participate.

The first National Forklift Safety Day was held in 2014, but forklifts themselves have been an important part of the industrial and commercial landscape since 1917. Since then, annual sales of forklifts in the US tops 19,000 vehicles.

Lobbying for the Forklift Industry

The ITA is a lobbying organization that is supported by members of industry manufacturers of lift trucks, tow tractors, rough terrain vehicles, hand-pallet trucks and Automated Guided Vehicles. The group represents more than 90% of the forklift manufacturers in the US and Canada. Suppliers of component parts and accessories may also join as associate members.

The ITA has established the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation and has built relationships with global associations throughout the Alliance of Industrial Truck Organizations. It also works closely with OSHA to save lives and avoid countless injuries by adopting new and updated safety regulations and operator training.