Tag Archives: workplace safety

7 Safety Trends for Today’s Workplace

Monumental changes in how and where work is performed create new risk and safety challenges. This session at the RIMS 2019 Annual Conference & Exhibition examined emerging workplace risks and effective safety strategies to address them.

Speakers included:

  • Larry Pearlman, senior vice Ppesident, workforce strategies practice, Marsh
  • Timothy Martin, global health and safety manager, Steelcase

1. Wearables

Ergonomics are a problem across many industries, especially with an aging workforce. Wearable devices measure body stress so that, with injuries, we can determine what happened, how it happened, when it happened and if it will happen again. Different technology like exoskeleton suits are available to help with strenuous activities, which can help retain your aging employees longer than otherwise expected.

2. Robotics

Industries have evolved from using barrier robots (kept away from employees), to collaborative robots (good for repetitive tasks but extremely complicated to program) to now using autonomous robots. Autonomous robots are simple to program in an extremely short time, so virtually any employee can control them with little effort.

See also: Top OSHA Trends Facing Employers  

3. Workplace Violence

Employers are still not being proactive enough on workplace violence, despite the increasing frequency. Training does not extend to drills, and mental health problems are going unaddressed. Employers need to shift from reactive policies to predictive and prescriptive policies. Technology has evolved to provide electronic robots that can patrol your workplace, supported by a control center that can interact with employees in real time.

4. Workplace Wellbeing

Studies show that employees are stressed and in poor health. Employee wellbeing is a major problem, and employers need to implement support for total wellbeing – physical, emotional, financial, social. There is a certain way to inspire wellbeing that does not seem like you are telling employees what they should be doing, which is ineffective. There are more-effective programs available that will tailor programs to employee preferences.

5. Temporary Workers

Temp workers often do not know proper safety basics and company policies related to safety. Employers can reduce the risks related to temporary workers through hiring practices, screening exercises, onboarding and continuous training. If you use a staffing agency, you can partner with it so that it aligns with your safety philosophy. Be transparent and try to match the type of work to the worker based on physical job requirements.

6. Changing Demographics

Training methods must adapt to address the changing nature of the workplace. A blended learning approach is now necessary for different generations. Technology is addressing safety learning preferences for the younger, tech-savvy generations. Micro-learning is available to address bite-size info in real time. Geofencing can monitor and message employees at decision points to ensure rules, compliance and hazard awareness. Also, virtual reality is available to simulate situations to manage the rare, impossible, expensive and risky.

See also: Connected Buildings and Workplace Safety  

7. Marijuana

Marijuana use continues to increase as legalization spreads across the U.S. There is no accurate impairment measurement available, so it is very difficult to create employment policies and testing. It may not make sense to test any more but, rather, enhance your fitness-for-duty policies. There is a new technology that will scan an employee’s eye and tell you if he or she is fit for duty. This is a measure that you can put at the time clock to help measure impairment before the employee begins his or her shift.

Why Workplace Safety Auditors Don’t Work

For decades, workplace safety has been about reactively auditing the work environment to pass a “tick box” exercise. This has not only led to high and sometimes fatal costs to businesses, but also higher expenses, more losses and a general inability to improve safety. But we are seeing changes – workplace safety puts loss prevention up front as a target, leading to lower loss ratios not just in regard to profits but more importantly for human life.

First things first: Let’s acknowledge that the auditor model does not work

Time and time again, studies have shown that workplace safety improves when you let business owners manage their own safety. The more involved owners, managers and the workers themselves are in monitoring safety measures, the higher the chances of success. In fact, empirical evidence shows that safety incidents are one-seventh as likely to happen with engaged worker-centric approaches. Conversely when third party auditors are involved, more often than not companies just put up an appearance of compliance to get through the audit. The results are lose-lose, disengaged workers, expensive auditors and no inherent increase in safety.

See also: Seriously? Artificial Intelligence?  

The smarter the device or building, the safer the worker

Today we have the tools to genuinely anticipate and prevent accidents, and one of the best tools is that thing everyone carries around these days, a mobile phone. The list of wearables that can bolster workplace safety is also growing longer every day as we progress toward an Internet of Things.

With a smartphone, workers can take a picture of any hazard (for example, an electrical fault) with augmented reality, and the GPS on the phone turns the hazard into a dynamic alert as opposed to being some static and often hidden document. So, even if it is not removed immediately, as it is unlikely to be in most cases, workers can be alerted as they approach it. (Note: The experts seem to call this contextual awareness.)

The smartphone is just the start; the building itself is now smarter, with sensors for temperature, smoke, moisture, electric current, humidity, noise, light measurements, etc. In the more industrial workplaces, helmets, wristbands and even gloves are being embedded with sensors, so they can send alerts to employees and their managers in real time, allowing them to take preventive measures if workers’ well-being is compromised or safety procedures are not being followed.

As safety data pours in, machine learning steps in to make the most of it

While augmented reality is great for short-term risk management, machine learning makes sense of all the safety data collected and helps in long-term risk management. Placing this data among financial, environmental, occupational and social data can result in a system that updates in real time and any time (and not just via third party audits) and gives users GPS coordinates, pictures and notes. For insurance companies, this combination of IoT data feeding into machine learning capability will help deliver more sophisticated risk prediction models and underwriting risk assessment tools than the industry has ever seen before.

See also: Digital Playbooks for Insurers (Part 4)  

There is no need to hide things from this auditor

Because it is self-audit!! But what does this mean to an insurance company? First, it means the focus now moves to loss prevention and subsequently, and carriers will have to lower premiums for worker-centric safety management. The lowering in top line premium is offset by lower expenses in using safety auditors and lower claims, leading to a better underwriting profit. This is not far-fetched; we have already seen this on the personal side and on the auto side with telematics. The trick this time around is combining with other data sources and machine learning for insights, which most humans could not comprehend in a traditional underwriting scenario.

I’ll leave you with a sobering fact – 4,836 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2015 itself. That’s 4,836 too many. It is time for insurers to lead the charge on eliminating (the right kind of eliminating) with worker-centric processes powered by augmented reality and machine learning.

Politics of Guns and Workplace Safety

The politics of guns in America are volatile, divisive and passionate, yet the risks that firearms present to organizations every day do not depend on the politics of the moment. Employers must deal with the reality of gun violence in America. A RIMS 2016 session discussed the legal aspects of what organizations can do and the practical implications of creating a firearms risk management program.

Speakers were:

  • Michael Lowry, attorney, Thorndal Armstrong Delk Balkenbush & Eisinger
  • Danielle Goodgion, director of human resources, Texas de Brazil

What Risks Do Firearms Pose?

OSHA states that an employer must provide “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

See Also: Active Shooter Scenarios

There are several risks to your organization, including:

  • Operations can halt in the case of a shooting. You have issues like police investigations and possibly injured employees.
  • Workers’ compensation will kick in if employees become injured.
  • General liability will be activated to cover injuries of non-employees.
  • Reputational risks are possibly the largest risks. You do not want your business associated with a violent act.

Most think that the Second Amendment bars private businesses from banning guns, but this is incorrect. The amendment applies to governments, not private homes and businesses.

Some employers react by posting signs banning all guns. This simple sign can be a recipe for disaster for several reasons:

  • Have you created a duty? If you post a sign, you have officially created a duty.
  • Why did you create this policy?
  • What are you doing to enforce this policy? Did you have a manual? Did you put up X-ray detectors? Probably not. You have to be able to prove you are enforcing the policy if you post a sign.
  • Did you train your employees to enforce this policy? If this policy is not enforced, a person might be injured by a firearm on your property.

“Bring Your Gun to Work” Laws

This is not a good idea. According to the law, business may not bar a person who is legally entitled to possess a firearm from possessing a firearm, part of a firearm, ammunition or ammunition component in a vehicle on the property.

In Kentucky, an employee may retrieve the firearm in the case of self-defense, defense of another, defense of property or as authorized by the owner, lessee or occupant of the property. In Florida, the employer has been held liable for civil damages if it takes action against an employee exercising this right.

Reputational risks also can apply. You could either get special interest groups protesting against your business or people who refuse to do business with you.

The Middle Ground

It is best to create a policy. Even if you support the right to bear arms, you can do it subtly. There are several provisions on what type of carry you allow and what signs are required. Business owners also do have the ability to allow no guns on the premises.

See Also: Broader Approach to Workplace Violence

Your policy should describe exactly how to approach a customer if an employee sees a weapon, including who should approach the customer, what to say and the steps to take to address the issue. Training is important.

Why Train?

  • Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found the rate of mass shootings has tripled since 2011.
  • In 2014, an FBI study considered 160 events between 2000 and 2013. 70% occurred in business or educational setting.
  • In 2000-2006, the annual average rate was 6.4 shootings. That jumped to 16.4 in 2007-2014.

This is clearly a problem that is getting worse, so why is training rarely provided? Places of business are a target – especially retail, restaurants and businesses in the hospitality industry. The active shooter wants soft, easy targets in large, open, public and crowded areas, and the goal is to kill indiscriminately. If your business is doing well with large crowds, you are a soft target.

Active Shooter Resources

To learn how to manage this risk, you can find resources from:

  • Law enforcement
  • Insurance partners
  • Government
  • Outside experts
  • Legal
  • Human Resources

Online resources include:

How to Think About Marijuana and Work

With a flip of the calendar, on July 1, Oregon became the fourth state in which recreational marijuana use became legal. For many Oregon employers, this status change from illegal to legal wasn’t a big deal. Medical marijuana is already legal in 24 states, including the Beaver State, and possessing less than an ounce was decriminalized in Oregon 40 years ago.

Recreational marijuana is just a new twist on an old story. All it really means is you can’t go to jail (or be fined) for smoking pot recreationally.

However, this “non-event” has made risk managers ponder the ramifications of recreational use, especially for their employees who work in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers have strict policies to ensure a safe work environment. It goes without saying that people who are under the influence at work in a manufacturing or an industrial setting are far more likely to be injured on the job.

Being stoned at work should be treated no differently than being under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication. You certainly can’t show up drunk for work.

The employer is responsible for that employee as soon as he walks on to the job. Any drug use that affects an employee’s ability to perform the job should be a genuine concern for the employer.

The difficulty for employers is that there is no scientific method to determine a marijuana intoxication level, unlike a blood-alcohol level. Until there is definitive scientific evidence, employers are being advised to err on side of safety and forbid an employee to be under the influence of marijuana.

To do that, the employer needs a crystal-clear, zero-tolerance policy. Unless the employer has been living in a cave the past 50 years, it already has such a policy. But it should be updated to specifically address marijuana use, both on the job and recreationally, because it could affect the employee’s job performance.

It is predicted that in 2016 – the third election cycle in which marijuana legalization measures will be on ballots across the country – as many as seven more states could allow recreational use of marijuana. As each state approves the recreational use of marijuana, there looms in the background the knowledge, that under federal law, its use remains illegal.

Whether that will eventually force the feds to take a stand remains to be seen. Right now, the feds have just rolled over to let you scratch their belly.

But as each state joins the ranks of approving pot use recreationally, what was a minor irritant to the feds could grow too large for them to ignore.

The bottom line is that a stoned CPA might drop a number or two, but a stoned assembly line worker might drop a few fingers. It doesn’t matter if the cause is pot, alcohol or prescription medication. Smoke cannabis at work – or show up stoned – and you’ll be disciplined. It’s not about a worker’s rights; it’s about workplace safety.

Using the Workplace to Prevent Suicide

Most deaths by suicide are among people of working age. Suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 25–44 years and females aged 25–34 years. The proportion of suicides that are work-related is unclear. One Australian study found that 17% of suicides in Victoria from 2000–2007 were work-related. Applying this estimate to deaths across Australia, approximately 3,800 suicides over the decade to 2011 may be work-related.

Adults spend about a third of their waking hours at work. The workplace provides a unique opportunity to provide key health information and intervention. Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) sees the workplace as playing a vital role in the creation of a suicide safe community.

The World Health Organization suggests worker suicide is a result of a complex interaction between individual vulnerabilities and work-related environmental factors that trigger stress reactions and contribute to poor mental well-being. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace, including managing psychosocial stressors.

Suicide Prevention Australia believes urgent action is required to address a range of systemic issues including managing unemployment, workers compensation and coronial processes. In addition, we call on organizations of all sizes to implement workplace policies and programs that promote a mentally healthy workforce and prevent suicide behaviors.

Understanding of the cost of workplace stress is continuously building and includes productivity losses because of “presenteeism” (the act of coming to work despite sickness, physical or mental) and absenteeism as well as workers’ compensation claims. No detailed and independent costing exists on the cost of suicide and suicidal behavior to the Australian economy.

A plausible estimate was calculated to be $17.5 billion per year, including productivity costs. Death claims paid out by Group Life Insurers in Superannuation for suicide exceeds $100 million per year. Monetary value aside, suicide cuts lives short and leaves scars.

Suicide is mostly preventable, yet significant gaps exist in our understanding of the relationship between work and suicide, limiting prevention efforts. SPA has reviewed the existing evidence, and we believe urgent action is required to address a range of systemic issues including managing unemployment, workers’ compensation and coronial processes. In addition, we call on organizations of all sizes to implement workplace policies and programs that promote a mentally healthy workforce and prevent suicide behaviors.

We ask employers to draw on the information provided in this document and call on them to:

  • Promote a workplace culture that is inclusive, de-stigmatizes mental health problems and encourages help-seeking. Sharing stories about personal experiences with suicide and mental health problems can be a powerful way to address stigma. In appropriate settings and with support and informed consent of all parties involved, leaders are encouraged to share their own stories, highlighting positive coping strategies and sources of help.
  • Prioritize psychosocial workplace safety. This includes identifying ways to reduce work-related stressors.
  • Understand and value the person as a human being rather than a resource. This includes understanding the interactions between what happens within the workplace and other aspects of life including family, relationships, cultural background, health, etc. This will help facilitate an understanding of the meaning of work for people and the impact of stress, loss or failure of work on their lives.
  • Promote mental health and suicide awareness within the workplace, paired with clear and communicated pathways to support for those in need.
  • Establish mechanisms for the recognition and early detection of mental health and emotional difficulties in the workplace.
  • Provide employees with access to appropriate self-help or professional interventions and treatment, for example via employee assistance programs linked to external community health resources. Pathways to care should be well promoted within the workplace, making sure employees feel encouraged to draw on these supports and understand the confidential nature of services. This will help overcome potential fear of breach of privacy.
  • Frame suicide prevention programs in a manner that respects the cultural backgrounds and needs of the target audience, taking into account factors such as cultural and linguistic diversity, indigenous status and diverse sexualities and genders.
  • Be prepared for suicide to touch the lives of your employees and to respond appropriately. Lived experience of suicide can include having thoughts about taking one’s own life, making a suicide attempt, caring for someone who is suicidal, being bereaved by suicide, witnessing a suicide or being exposed to suicide in some other way. These experiences will take on different meaning and importance for every person and can have lasting impacts.

To assist individual employers to achieve this, we ask that industry and employer groups:

  • Establish relationships with key suicide prevention and mental health organizations.
  • Develop industrywide guidelines for suicide prevention.
  • Invest in the development of multifaceted suicide prevention programs tailored for the industry. This is especially urgent for industries characterized by relatively ready access to suicide means, elevated risk of suicide or a high proportion of male workers.

Government plays a vital role in suicide prevention. Action
is required by government to address systemic issues that contribute to work-related suicide. We call on government to:

  • Promote policies and practices that encourage employment, as this will give more people protection against one of the more significant risk factors for suicide.
  • Invest in both labor market programs and suicide prevention programs (including mental health promotion) during times of economic downturn.
  • Provide access to counselling services (via employment pathway services) for individuals unemployed for more than four weeks.
  • Provide suicide intervention skills training for front-line staff working with the long- term unemployed.
  • Fund research into the relationship between work and suicide to inform suicide prevention activities.
  • Review the role of the workers’ compensation system in suicide prevention, minimizing harm and maximizing opportunities for intervention with those vulnerable to suicide. To achieve this, workers’ compensation claims databases require improvement, and research is required to better understand the relationship between workers’ compensation and suicide.
  • Give coroners adequate resources to ensure that coronial investigations include the role of work in suicide deaths.
  • Develop guidelines for suicide prevention in line with the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022.
  • The proposed harmonized workplace health and safety regime increases focus on duty of care including mental health. We call on state and territory governments to implement recommendations under the proposed regime.
  • Invest in mental health and suicide prevention in the workplace.