Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Depressing Fact for an Occupational Safety Professional

Recently we were helping one of our clients with an annual event they have where they bring in family members of the employees and celebrate their culture (they really do have a great culture there). They have a barbeque, games, tours of the facility so the family members can see what they do there, and some presentations on safety with the hope of making people safer both at home or at work.

At SCM, although we are safety professionals, we often spend most of our time dealing with safety and health issues at work. There are lots of reasons for this that we don’t need to get into in this blog. However, while researching for the barbeque we found some interesting statistics. Bear in mind that the client we were dealing with is a chemical manufacturer that essentially makes battery acid. So this is a high hazard industry we’re talking about. But when you compare how safe the employees are at home and at work its not even close – the employees are much more likely to be hurt or killed while at home than at work!

Lets take a look at some numbers. The most recent firm data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is for 2011 (they just released the preliminary numbers for 2012, but the final numbers won’t be released for another few months). In 2011 BLS reported 4,693 occupational fatal injuries in the US. That’s almost 13 people per day dying at work. During that same year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported 122,777 accidental deaths. This includes both occupational and non-work related. If you do the math that means about 96% of all accidental deaths are NOT work-related, and although about 13 people die at work every day in the US, over 323 people in the US die every day outside of work from accidents!

I must say that this is depressing for a safety professional. For all the efforts we expend to make people safe at work, doing risk assessments, training, prevention through design, audits, applying the hierarchy of controls with care, all of this could be meaningless the next time the employee takes a vacation and gets into a horrible auto accident (the leading cause of accidental death), they accidentally overdose on prescription medications (poisoning, the second leading cause of accidental death), or they fall from their ladder while putting up Christmas lights (falls, the third leading cause of accidental death). And this doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of disabling injuries people get at home as well. If the human cost is not enough to convince you, the home accidents cost businesses billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Clearly we have a problem here and, unfortunately, there’s no clear solution. However, as safety professionals, we have to admit that our message of integrating safety into our daily lives isn’t sinking in. There’s many reasons for this, but the bottom line is that, as Abraham Lincoln says, “we must think anew, we must act anew.” We have to start preaching safety 24/7 and we have to lead by example. In our trainings we should stress how the concepts relate both to home and work safety. Some organizations (like the one mentioned above) provide PPE and other safety equipment to employees for home projects, with the understanding that if you use it at home you’ll use it at work. You can even provide employees with a home hazard checklist (like this one) and give incentives and rewards to employees who complete the checklist.

Whatever we do, we have to keep in mind that if we truly care about the safety of our employees, our care doesn’t stop at the organization’s front door. We need to think about how we can protect ourselves and our families wherever we go. 

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