April 17, 2012
Avoiding Workplace Disaster And Workers' Compensation Costs
by Curt Shaw
It is essential to diagnose, address and eliminate problems that might contribute to unsafe work conditions and practices to avoid injuries and costly expenditures and deaths. Preventative measures are important!
A worker working in an underground hole at a construction site in Milpitas, California was the victim of an accident where soil and loose dirt piled on top of him. The man was essentially buried alive. Co-workers who were on the scene witnessed this tragic death but were unable to help him.1
The police of Milpitas and Cal/OSHA are currently investigating this shoring accident. Did Milpitas and the company train their workers on trenching and shoring standards, as required by OSHA? Was this accident preventable? Was it an act of negligence? The employer of the deceased worker is now eligible for numerous fines, as well as the atrocity of killing a worker onsite.
Do the workers at your site understand the best practices and codes required by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to do their job safely? If they were injured, would you be able to prove that your company did everything to prevent that injury from happening? Are you assured that your company is completing all necessary protocols to prevent an injury from occurring? Would your company be able to stand up in court should a worker get injured? And is your company doing everything to prevent the injury and possible death of somebody working for your company?
There are many aspects to these questions and many preventative measures to maintain at every worksite. This is the first of several articles that will divulge ways to avoid workers compensation costs, and more importantly, the death of somebody in the workplace.
Risk managers often point to something called the Safety Pyramid to understand and explain workplace injuries. This is a triangle-shaped diagram that shows the amount of incidents that usually coincide with negligible acts. The theory is that if one fatality occurs (representing the top of the pyramid), there are numerous injuries (as shown in the bottom of the pyramid) that can be prevented.
These preventable injuries include lost time from work, near-misses and at-risk behaviors. Even if your company has not suffered a death or had an employee miss work due to injury, there are still factors that may prove your company to be at risk of fines. In addition a worker can complain to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and other governmental bodies about workplace conditions which can put a company at risk.
One factor that is addressed by every OSHA visit is whether workers have been trained to perform their jobs safely. It is important to educate all workers to comply with regulatory standards. This may mean training workers in lockout/tagout procedures, or something as simple as sexual harassment laws. In any industry, there are regulations in place by OSHA, HIIPA, DOT, EEOC, and other governmental bodies that apply rules and regulations that your company must abide by according to law. Knowing the regulations that are pertinent to your workplace and training all workers exposed to potential hazards is essential for any company.
In high-risk workplaces, it is important to address the hazards a worker may face. It is essential to conduct a job hazard analysis to understand the conditions a worker comes into contact with. Safety observations must also be conducted, so that you can assess the worker or position in the environment when dealing with hazardous circumstances. This way you can address beforehand the unsafe conditions and prevent injuries and near misses from happening.
Perhaps your company works with hazardous chemicals. Hazard Communication is listed as the number one violated regulation for 2011 (it has been cited as the most violated regulation for many years). If your company regularly deals with hazardous materials, do you have the required Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) available for all employees to view, as required by the “right-to-know” standard? Are your employees using the appropriate personal protective equipment?
Also, in order to increase worker safety, lower costs and reduce trade barriers internationally OSHA is bringing its Hazard Communication Standard in alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of classifying and labeling chemicals. This standardization of safety data sheets (SDSs) and chemical labeling will improve the understanding of chemical hazards and increase worker protection. All workers need to be trained on this new system by December 1, 2013. Are you receiving this kind of critical information, on a timely basis?
There are many ways your company can be exposed and held liable should a worker become injured or killed at a job site. If you are the risk manager at a construction site, are you assured that all contractors that you utilize on site abide by the standards and have up-to-date Certificates of Insurance? If someone got injured, who would be liable for the injuries? Having up-to-date Certificates of Insurance is extremely valuable for construction sites, as shown in the example above.
What is most important is to ensure that preventative measures are in place and to have an active safety program that addresses all potential risk factors before they become issues, injuries, or deaths. Does your workplace have an active safety committee, for example? Are your workers aware of the hazards they face and the ways to prevent them? If you have a safety committee in place, do you share safety training documents with them regularly?
As shown in the above paragraphs, it is essential to diagnose, address and eliminate problems that might contribute to unsafe work conditions and practices to avoid injuries and costly expenditures and deaths. Preventative measures are important!
There are ways to address each of these issues. Many safety-conscious companies spend a good deal of money to hire safety consultants to come to their workplace to create safety programs, train staff, and evaluate the workers and environment for risks. Other companies buy several expensive software products made by different firms. These separate software products do not “talk” to each other and thus, gaping holes in a risk management program develop. Risk managers have to repeat work to import employee records and assure that everything is being done according to standard.
The Risk Management Center is a web-based risk management platform with a large library of best practices and state of the art management tools that are designed to help risk managers develop and more effectively manage their own risk mitigation programs. These management tools help organizations manage and track Certificates of Insurance, build Job Hazard Analyses, develop Job Descriptions, generate all OSHA 300 logs and the First Report of Injury, manage and store MSDSs, and track training.