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Risk Managers' Forum

Safety first

Make sure your clients stay safe

By Curt Shaw

The San Jose Mercury reported on an incident recently where a man working in an underground hole at a construction site at 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 tragedy but were unable to help him.

The police of Milpitas and Cal/OSHA are currently investigating this shoring accident. Did Milpitas County 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 could face numerous fines, as well as having to live with the fact that one of its workers died on the job site.

Insurance agents should be asking their commercial clients some serious questions:

• Do the workers at your site understand the best practices and codes required by OSHA 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 someone working for your company?

There are many aspects to these questions and many preventive measures to maintain at every worksite. This article will look at ways to cut workers compensation costs and, more important, lessen the chances for an injury or death of someone 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 number 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 client's company has not suffered a death or had an employee miss work due to injury, there are still factors that may prove your client to be at risk of fines. In addition, a worker can complain to OSHA 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. In any industry, there are regulations by OSHA, HIPAA, DOT, EEOC, and other governmental bodies that apply rules and regulations that your client's company must abide by according to law. Knowing the regulations that are pertinent to their 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 incontact with. Safety observations must also be conducted so that you can view workers in their workplace environment and see how they deal with hazardous circumstances. This way you can address any unsafe conditions and prevent injuries and near misses from happening.

Perhaps your client's company works with hazardous chemicals. Hazard Communication is listed as the number one violated OSHA regulation for 2011. (It has been cited as the most violated regulation for many years.) If your clients regularly deal with hazardous materials, do they have the required Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) available for all employees to view, as required by the "right-to-know" standard? Are their 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 your clients receiving this kind of critical information on a timely basis?

There are many ways your client's company can be exposed and held liable should a worker be injured or killed at a job site. If you are the risk manager at a construction site, are you assured that all contractors or subcontractors on your job site abide by the standards and have up-to-date Certificates of Insurance? If someone were injured, who would be liable for the injuries? Having up-to-date Certificates of Insurance is extremely important for construction sites.

What is most important is to ensure that preventive 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 client's workplace have an active safety committee, for example? Are their workers aware of the hazards they face and the ways to prevent them? If they have a safety committee in place, do they share safety-training documents with the committee on a regular basis?

There are ways to address each of the aforementioned issues. Many safety-conscious companies spend a good deal of money to hire safety consultants to come into 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 could develop. Risk managers may have to repeat work to import employee records and assure that everything is being done according to standard.

The bottom line is this: If all employees understand the hazards and safe behaviors and act accordingly, many accidents can be avoided or severity minimized. Here are practical ways companies can promote a safe work environment:

• Involve employees in the identification, discussion, and documentation of hazards.

• Periodically audit yourself against applicable industry regulations and standards.

• Make sure that appropriate controls are in place and operational; periodic inspection and maintenance is critical.

• Investigate every incident to determine root cause and communicate findings and correct deficiencies.

• Assure that training is done to build an awareness of "critical behaviors" for each task, and make certain that training is repeated frequently enough and always occurs following modifications impacting operational hazards.

• Perform safety observations to encourage safe behaviors.

• Recognize people who perform tasks safely and demonstrate proper behaviors.

• Perform refresher trainings at employee meetings to ensure that all employees remember safety procedures.

A successful safety system includes: being aware of the hazards of tasks, knowing the critical behaviors, and addressing them!

The author

Curt Shaw is the CEO and founder of Succeed Management Solutions, LLC, and has over 35 years of experience in key risk management positions with Fortune 500 organizations and insurers. Curt is a retired Board Certified Industrial Hygienist and Safety Professional of 30 years, and an environmental engineer with an industry-wide reputation as the expert on risk mitigation. For safety and health software and consulting, visit for more information.

For information on risk management education through the CRM program, go to:


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