Archive for May, 2012

The CDC publication, Vital Signs (November, 2011), highlights the PRESCRIPTION DRUG PROBLEM in the United States.   A chart in this issue shows that sales of prescription painkillers, overdose deaths per 100,000 people, and treatment admissions per 10,000 people have exponentially increased since 1999. According to the CDC, fatal overdoses have more than tripled from 1999 through 2008, while the quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.

According to the CDC, many states report problems with “pill mills,” where doctors prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who have no medical need for them.  The data shows that Florida has the highest level of prescription painkiller sales per resident and Illinois has the lowest among all states. The CDC sites that states ranking higher in sales per resident tend to have more overdose deaths.

Some of these individuals who abuse prescription painkillers are going to work every day.  These individuals are driving forklifts, driving trucks, operating machinery, teaching our children, etc.   What are we doing about it as a society?   What are we doing about it as an employer?  We have an obligation to provide a safe work environment!   I don’t believe that a work environment is safe if individuals are using prescription painkillers and other drugs while working.

Whether an individual received a prescription pain killer in a legal means or illegal means should have no bearing on whether that individual should be driving a forklift, driving a truck, or operating machinery – they should not be doing these tasks.   It places their safety and the safety of others at risk.

OSHA has yet to specifically address this issue (the use of prescription drugs in the workplace).   I support a policy where an employee has an obligation to let the employer know that they are taking a drug that creates drowsiness or effects their motor skills and the employer has the obligation to  temporarily reassign the individual to another position where the risk to themselves and others is mitigated.     An employer does not need to know what the drug is or why the employee is taking the drug, only that the individual is taking a drug which causes drowsiness and affects their motor skills.    This is a very simple solution to a rapidly growing problem.

We have an obligation to provide a safe workplace.  I take this commitment very seriously  – what about you?

STAY SAFE!     **  Jeff  **   214-215-2434

I was watching a news report on television earlier this week about four hikers who were killed over the weekend while climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal (eight of the fourteen highest peaks on earth are located among the Himalaya mountain range).    The British Medical Journal reports that there is one death per ten successful climbs.   Further, a majority of the deaths occur on the decent from the climb primarily due to altitude sickness (lack of oxygen) and fatigue.    The window to climb to the summit is very narrow due to the ever changing weather.   Evidently, the hikers who were killed pushed the envelope on the window and left “four to six hours after the window closed”.

Here is an unofficial history of the number of successful summits and deaths by year:

Climbing to the peak of Mt. Everest is risky and should only be attempted by fit individuals using state of the art equipment with reputable, trained guides.   People train for years for the opportunity to climb this mountain.   People should also do their homework and understand the weather patterns and windows for a successful climb.

The news reporter asked why the Nepal government does not regulate the climbs to Mt. Everest and reduce the number of fatalities.   Why do we need any government to regulate something that we should be personally accountable for?   The Nepal government charges $25k for a permit to climb Mt. Everest but does not regulate the window when you can climb.  This goes back to personal responsibility.  People need to take responsibility for their own actions.  If you feel something is not safe – don’t do it!  This goes for climbing Mt. Everest or for any action in your work environment.   If you feel something is not safe – don’t do it!   That is what PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY and responsibility is all about – taking responsibility for your actions and looking out for yourself.

I am personally accountable and responsible for my own actions – what about you?

STAY SAFE!     **  Jeff  **   214-215-2434

I’m neither the first nor the last person to ask this age old question:  Do SAFETY INCENTIVE PROGRAMS work?   If data supported that incentives reduce accidents, then everybody would have an incentive program in place.  Data suggests that incentive programs discourage the reporting of accidents and have an adverse effect on safety.   What is the right answer?

In March, 2005, 15 workers died and 180 others were injured in an explosion at the BP Texas City refinery.  Investigation showed that a safety incentive program at the refinery rewarded workers with bonuses for achieving low injury rates.   The investigation revealed that workers feared reprisals for reporting potentially risky conditions at the refinery.   This accident prompted the US Congress to ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into safety incentive programs.   In 2009, GAO issued a report that found that safety incentive programs “can provide disincentives for workers to report injuries to their employers”.

The GAO has performed a new study in April, 2012 recommending that OSHA do more to shed light on the effects of incentives and other safety programs on reporting.  OSHA warns, “If the incentive is great enough that its loss dissuades reasonable workers from reporting injuries,” the program could result in an employer being in violation of record keeping responsibilities.

The other side of this argument:  If incentives keep an employee from breaking a safety rule and eliminate an accident, than the incentive was worth it.   If the incentive has an employee bring up a safety concern their supervisor, and it prevents an accident not happening, then the incentive was worth it.

In my opinion, I think incentives are a good thing as long as they do not discourage accident reporting.   This can be accomplished by keeping the incentive amount at a fairly low level which will not discourage accident reporting.    Another alternative is to provide incentives for positive behavior (reporting unsafe conditions) rather than on accident rates.

I am going to review safety incentives – what about you?

STAY SAFE!     **  Jeff  **   214-215-2434

In the United States – it is estimated that the cost of job injuries and illnesses is $250 billion to $300 billion per year.   HOW MUCH?  $250-300 BILLION (with a B).   In 2010, 4,690 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day, according to a new 184 page report called “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.” As a comparison, in 2009, 4,551 people died on the job.   Why is this trend going the wrong direction?   What can we do to change this trend?

Here are four items that I found interesting in this report:

1.   There are 2,178 inspectors to inspect the 8 million workplaces under the OSH Act’s jurisdiction. Federal OSHA can inspect workplaces on average once every 131 years; the state OSHA plans can inspect them once every 73  years.

2. The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 58,687 workers.

3. Criminal penalties under the OSHA law are weak.  They are limited to cases in which a willful violation results in a worker death and are misdemeanors. Since 1970, only 84 cases have been prosecuted, with defendants serving a total of 89 months in jail.  During this time there were more than 370,000 worker deaths!

4.  OSHA penalties are too low to deter violations. The average penalty for a serious violation of the law in FY 2011 was $2,107 for federal OSHA and $942 for the state plans.

I do not think that having more inspectors is the solution to change this trend, but one inspection every 131 years (Federal) or every 73 years (State)?   Only having one inspector for every 59 thousand workers?  And that does not even address the competences of these inspectors!   I can not believe only 84 cases have been prosecuted and only 89 months in jail total – since 1970!   A serious violation  only costing $2k?   Come on – it’s time to wake up and address the problem.

I assure you that I am not a supporter of the AFL-CIO, but they raise some very good points in their report.   Further, I assure you I am not a supporter of creating more bureaucracy in our government.   But something has to change.   As a society, we can not accept worker deaths and can not accept a slap on the wrist for companies that blatantly put workers in harms way.

I am going to increase awareness and push for reformation as it relates to violations.  What are you going to do?

STAY SAFE!     **  Jeff  **   214-215-2434

 

Yesterday, I was speaking to a gentleman that used to work for me and is now at another company.  He described the safety culture at his new company as “non-existent”.   This company has experienced over 20 recordable and lost time accidents in the first 4 months of the year at one plant alone.   In our discussion, he described to me an accident that occurred over this past weekend:

An employee was injured when he was cutting a thick piece of metal with a disc grinder.   Part way into the cut the disc came apart striking this employee in the face.   This employee received almost 100 stitches and will have a permanent scar from this incident.   He is described as being lucky because he didn’t lose an eye.  The employee worked for this company three weeks when this incident occurred.    The employee was wearing a face shield that did not protect him from the pieces of the disc.  The employee went to the first aid station and was applying butterfly bandages to the cut – the employee feared he would lose his job over this incident.

The accident investigation revealed that the employee was applying too much PRESSURE on the disc in an effort to speed up the cutting process.   The disc could not take this PRESSURE causing it to “shatter” into multiple pieces that became projectiles and struck the employee in the face.

The obvious questions that immediately came to my mind are:  Was this employee properly trained?  Was the PPE adequate?   Was there too much PRESSURE to meet production goals?   Was there a flaw in the disc?

If this company had a robust safety culture, would this incident have been prevented?   If employees always thought about safety first, not quota first or productivity first, would this incident have been prevented?

I am going to put safety first – what about you?

STAY SAFE!     **  Jeff  **   214-215-2434