Despite the remarkable strides that employers have made in reducing workplace injuries, there are several persistent issues that threaten worker safety. Here are four of them:
- Disconnect between employer and employee perception of value of productivity over workplace safetyIn a recent survey, Employee Perceptions in Workplace Safety, by the National Safety Council (NSC), over one-third of the employees surveyed claimed that workplace safety is secondary to performing tasks. This perception was even much higher in certain industries: 68% in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; 58% in construction; and 45% in manufacturing or industrial facilities.
The report also found that 32% of respondents agreed that employees “are afraid to report safety issues,” and 30% agreed “employees are resistant to working safely.” Of those surveyed, 39% agreed that management does only the “minimum required by law” when it comes to employee safety. 32% feel management ignores an employee’s safety performance when determining promotions.
On the other hand, 71% stated that safety training is part of orientation, and 68% of those surveyed agreed that employees are well trained in emergency practices. 62% say everyone is involved in solving job safety issues. 63% of employees feel they work in areas or at stations that are ergonomically correct.
Takeaway: Even in companies that have a safety strategy aligned with their organizational goals, there can be a safety-vs.-production dichotomy. This can come from unrealistic deadlines, poor supervision, inadequate communication, lack of accountability, workers’ perception that personal productivity solely drives raises, or a high tolerance for risk among some employees. Find out how your employees view safety and productivity. Are there conflicts, if so, what are they and how do they resolve them? Many successful companies have demonstrated that high value on safety and productivity can co-exist and help achieve long-term profitability.
- Motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of workplace fatalities and roadways are getting more dangerousIt’s not falls, fires, explosions, or chemical exposure that kills workers the most on the job; it’s motor vehicle crashes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2015 (latest data available), roadway incident fatalities were up 9 percent from 2014 totals, accounting for over one-quarter of the fatal occupational injuries in 2015.
Drivers are often lulled into a false sense of security with hands-free and in-vehicle technology. An NSC survey found that 47% of motorists are comfortable texting while driving. There’s also a false sense that summer is a safer time to drive with better weather and road conditions. However more auto accidents occur during the summer time than any other time of the year.
According to the NSC, the increased serious injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes continue a troubling multiyear surge that experts believe is being fueled, in part, by more people driving while distracted by cellphones, infotainment screens, and other devices. Other factors include an improving economy, lower gas prices, and younger, more inexperienced drivers.
And then there are the challenges that face the trucking industry. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers incurred 745 fatal work injuries in 2015, the most of any occupation.Truck drivers also had more nonfatal injuries than workers in any other occupation. Half of the nonfatal injuries were serious sprains and strains; this may be attributed to the fact that many truck drivers must unload the goods they transport. A driver shortage, a rapidly aging driver population, as well as issues with driver fatigue, obesity, and other co-morbidities challenge the industry. And in many delivery zones, there has been an increase in pedestrian strikes, not caused by drivers but by distracted pedestrians.
Takeaway: Any company utilizing vehicles for business purposes – even if those vehicles are employees’ personal cars – can feel the impact of rising accidents. The average work-related motor vehicle injury claim costs $72,540, which is twice as much as other work-related injuries. Those who have not instituted policies to minimize distracted driving need to do so. Random checks on compliance with the policy and discipline for non-compliance are key. Employers can also strengthen hiring practices and use fleet telematics, when appropriate.
These policies should be regularly communicated to help reinforce the message. There are good public awareness campaigns, including an informative website, distraction.gov, in which employers can download forms to use in obtaining a pledge to not engage in distracting activities while driving. Recently, the NSC created a webinar offering recommendations not only on eliminating distractions in vehicles, but also on how to be alert and react to the actions of other distracted drivers on the road.
- Fatalities in construction outpace employment growthThe number of fatalities among construction workers climbed to 985 in 2015 after dipping to 781 in 2011, an increase of 26% compared to employment growth of 16%. Fall-related fatalities increased at a faster pace – rising 36% to 367 in 2015, according to the report by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).
Data presented in the report comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other findings:
- 55 percent of fatal falls came from heights of 20 feet or less.
- 33 percent of fatal falls involved falls from roofs, 24 percent involved ladders, and scaffolds and staging accounted for 15 percent.
- Fatal falls in residential construction rose to 61 in 2015 from 26 in 2011.
- Roofers continue to experience the highest rate of fatal falls to a lower level: 31.5 per 100,000 full-time workers, although this represents a decrease from 39.9 in 2014.
- Workers at an increased risk of fatal falls include Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, and workers 55 years and older.
Takeaway: The findings in this report emphasize the need to reduce falls and the importance of ongoing vigilance. CPWR, OSHA and NIOSH have a variety of resources available and the Campaign to Prevent falls in construction website includes Eleven Ways to keep your fall prevention program alive all year long.
- Impaired workforce: drug use at 12-year highCocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use continues to climb among workers, though opioid use is down, according to a May 2017 study by New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics Inc. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015, and seven percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015. Marijuana positivity increased dramatically over the last three years with increases in Colorado and Washington double the national average. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016.
Amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine) positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than eight percent in urine testing compared to 2015. Throughout the last decade, this rise has been driven primarily by amphetamine use, which includes certain prescription drugs such as Adderall.
On a positive note, heroin detection remained flat, while prescription opiate detection declined.
Takeaway: The efforts to control opiate prescribing in workers’ comp have produced promising results. However, the answer to the problem of drugs in the workplace remains elusive. The regulations governing drug testing are more restrictive, there is no established standard of what constitutes impairment when it comes to marijuana, alternatives to chronic pain treatment are still emerging, and employees often do not understand the perils of some prescription medications. In addition to a carefully crafted drug-free workplace policy, training supervisory staff to identify and know what to do if they suspect an employee has a problem and educating employees on their role in keeping the workplace safe are key.
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