Sources of Injury: Occupational Safety Trends
Scherer, Robert F., Petrick, Joseph A., Quinn, John F., Review of Business
Using data from 1978 to 1992 from OSHA's Management Information System, three nonhuman causes of workplace accidents were identified: equipment, environmental conditions, and vehicles. Over the 15-year period, accidents due to equipment problems increased significantly, those related to environmental conditions decreased, and those caused by vehicle problems increased slightly. Proactive and reactive responses to each risk factor are offered as a way to integrate human and nonhuman factor approaches to workplace safety.
There were double-digit increases in the rate of U.S. jobrelated injuries and fatalities in the 1980s[2,6]. Since 1978, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has collected data on the nonhuman sources of workplace injuries. These sources of injury are gaining greater attention from environmental and safety engineers, product safety and ergonomic experts, lawyers, purchasing agents, and human resource professionals[1,8].
The human and financial impacts of job-related injuries due to nonhuman factors have destroyed families and cost companies millions of dollars[3,5]. However, sound recommendations for improvement require a longitudinal, detailed analysis of the specific nonhuman sources of workplace injuries.
OSHA's Management Information System database contains detailed records of workplace accident inspections conducted by OSHA compliance officers since 1972. More than 25,000 accidents have been recorded and attributed to nonhuman factors since 1978. When nonhuman factors are identified as the sources of workplace accidents, they can be easily divided into three categories: equipment, environmental conditions, and vehicles. An examination of these three nonhuman factors over a 15-year period between 1978 and 1992 indicates that equipment problems are increasing significantly, vehicles increasing slightly, and environmental conditions decreasing as sources of workplace injuries. Refer to Exhibit 1 on page 12.
We will analyze the nonhuman sources of injury in detail using the OSHA database and offer specific recommendations to improve the current situation. Organizations have begun to realize the financial and human costs of nonhuman factors as sources of workplace injury and the improved quality and productivity that can be achieved by attention to nonhuman sources of workplace injury[5,6].
Equipment Factors. Problems in U.S. occupational health and safety are caused by the nonhuman factors: equipment, environmental conditions, and vehicles. In 1992, the most significant nonhuman factor was faulty equipment, with injuries increasing from 39 percent in 1978 to 53 percent in 1992. While micro-movements among factors occurred within the 15-year period, the macro-movements among factors are revealed in the broader 15-year context that is the focus of this study. In Exhibit 2, the key components of equipment sources of injury are delineated. Ranking the problems from 1978-82 through 1988-92, faulty machines, powered hand tools, and ladders indicate significant percentage increases as sources of injury, whereas electrical apparatus/wiring, hoisting apparatus, and boiler/pressure indicate decreases as sources of injury.
Exhibit 2. Changes in Equipment Sources Injuries Percent Factor 1978-82 1983-87 1988-92 ([up arrow]) Machines 22.71 28.68 30.31 ([up arrow]) Powered Hand Tools 1.69 2.16 3.04 ([up arrow]) Ladders 3.03 3.67 5.42 ([down arrow]) Electrical 29.71 29.3 24.74 Apparatus/Wiring ([down arrow]) Hoisting Apparatus 15.62 13.55 11.96 ([down arrow]) Boiler/Pressure 5.28 2.53 1.64
([up arrow]) = Overall increase; ([down arrow]) = Overall decrease
Environmental Conditions Factors. In 1992, the second most significant nonhuman factor contributing to workplace injury was environmental conditions with a relative decrease in injuries from 50 percent in 1978 to 36 percent in 1992. In Exhibit 3, the key components of environmental conditions as sources of injury are depicted. Reading across from 1978-82 through 1988-92, working surfaces, vegetation, and waste products indicate percentage increases as sources of injury, whereas chemicals, fire/smoke, and gases demonstrate marked percentage decreases as sources of injury.
Exhibit 3. Changes in Environmental Conditions Sources Injuries Percent Factor 1978-92 1983-97 1999-92 ([up arrow]) Working Surface 10.73 10.94 17.50 ([up arrow]) Vegetation 1.48 1.68 2.16 ([up arrow]) Waste Products 0.48 0.51 0.88 ([down arrow]) Chemicals 33.44 25.50 24.92 ([down arrow]) Fire/Smoke 18.23 18.53 16.55 ([down arrow]) Gases 17.51 23.00 15.21
([up arrow]) = Overall increase; ([down arrow]) = Overall decrease
Vehicle Factors. In 1992, the third most significant nonhuman factor contributing to workplace injury was vehicle sources of injury with a slight increase in injuries from ten percent in 1978 to 12 percent in 1992. The key components of vehicle sources of injury are shown in Exhibit 4. From 1978-82 through 1988-92, industry vehicles and highway vehicles indicate percentage increases as sources of injury, whereas railroad equipment and boats demonstrate percentage decreases as sources of injury.
Exhibit 4. Changes in Vehicle Sources Injuries Percent Factor 1978-82 1983-87 1988-92 ([up arrow]) Industry Vehicle 45.58 48.65 51.59 ([up arrow]) Highway Vehicle 34.62 40.98 39.17 ([down arrow]) Railroad Equipment 13.16 6.61 5.65 ([down arrow]) Boats 5.07 2.84 1.39
([up arrow]) = Overall increase; ([down arrow]) = Overall decrease
Non-Human Factor Programs
The major types of nonhuman factors that contribute to workplace injuries are either unsafe products (equipment and/or vehicles) or unsafe environments. Regarding both areas, companies can adopt either reactive or proactive nonhuman factor-based programs. Reactive programs involve legal and risk management actions following the injury while proactive programs involve coordinated interdepartmental efforts to prevent future injuries due to nonhuman factors.
Reactive: Legal. Defective equipment and/or vehicles can exist for a variety of reasons -- original design defect manufacturing defect, inadequate warning, inadequate instructions, and inadequate containers (unmarked or mislabelled). When these defects cause workplace injuries, product liability litigation is available as a legal remedy to the company. Reactive legal remedies can be based on contract law (breach of expression or an implied warranty), manufacturing/distribution chain negligence (some party other than the purchasing company can be held legally liable for their fault of negligence), or strict liability (producing an unreasonably dangerous product from the purchaser/consumer perspective, not from an engineering perspective). While this reactive response is costly, it may be the most immediate remedy for a corporation.
Reactive: Risk Management. As workplace compensation, disability, social security, and other insurance costs escalate, companies react by searching for accurate, comprehensive, and coordinated data for sound risk management of nonhuman factors in the future. Generally, greater risk management costs are borne as company insurance premium increases, some of which are transferred to employees through increased health insurance costs. Again, in the short term, passing insurance premium increases to employees is a band-aid approach to an issue that requires a more systematic, proactive response.
Proactive: Equipment. Equipment factors, the largest sources of workplace injuries, can be better managed by the following proactive steps:
* The purchasing department must initiate an accurate and electronically based system to track defective equipment and use the information for future purchasing decisions.
* The purchasing department can require that prospective vendors undergo a review of their safety and product liability records as a precondition for earning future business contracts with the company.
* Feedback regarding ergonomic engineering features in equipment design aimed at continuously improving fail-safe operations needs to be periodically updated.
Proactive: Environmental Conditions. The second major source of injuries can be addressed by the following proactive measures:
* Evaluate products for their environmental impact in the workplace, and evaluate construction materials for slip-resistant workplace surfaces prior to purchasing.
* Rigorously monitor maintenance and housekeeping policies and practices to ensure uncluttered workplace surfaces, waste product removal, and elimination of irritating vegetation in order to produce a healthy workplace.
* Coordinate with facility planning and logistics to ensure ongoing waste management and proper storage programs are in effect and regularly audited.
Proactive: Vehicle. The third major nonhuman factor causing workplace injuries can be addressed by the following proactive steps:
* Both purchasing and vehicle maintenance need to coordinate efforts to ensure improved quality of fleet acquisition, vehicle safety standards, crash worthiness standards, and vehicle maintenance standards regarding industry and highway vehicles.
* Operational proficiency certification and sign-out procedures to ensure performance accountability and safe driving need to become institutionalized.
* Preventive maintenance and routine repairs are to be documented by sign-out sheets and periodically audited.
Proactive Human Factor-Based Programs
While nonhuman factors contribute to workplace injuries, human factors also need proactive attention because of the intimate interaction between human and nonhuman factors. Three specific recommendations regarding human factor interaction with equipment, environmental conditions, and vehicles can help to reduce the risk of future workplace injuries.
* At the job-design stage, identify and eliminate as many high-risk sources of injury as possible. Ergonomic programs are a combination of problem prevention and intervention activities that can eliminate high-risk, nonhuman factors and increase productivity through work redesign.
* Design jobs with the current and anticipated worker in mind. Rather than fitting the worker to the tool, adjust the tool to the worker congruent with common ergonomic principles[4,5]. A competency audit should be conducted to determine specific basic skills required not only to operate the equipment or vehicle but to do so safely.
* At the employment stage, empower employees. Employees are the most valuable, untapped asset of an organization. Listen and accept employee suggestions; give them responsibility and accountability for accident prevention. Use a team approach to jobs. Involve line employees with engineers, occupational health specialists, supervisors, lawyers, maintenance crews, medical staff, purchasing officers, quality inspectors, and human resource staff.
The empirically documented changes in nonhuman factor causes of workplace accidents must be understood to achieve safer work environments. Proactively and reactively addressing equipment, environmental condition, and vehicle problems will result in higher quality production, safer workplaces, and more cost-effective management in the future. Human resource professionals responsible for the safety function can integrate human- and nonhuman-factor approaches to reduce workplace accidents in each of the three sources of injury categories.
While it is anticipated that both state and federal occupational safety and health agencies will consult more with businesses in the future, business people must ultimately bear the responsibility for promoting a safe and healthy workplace. To achieve safety and health objectives, organizations may be required to provide physical, human, and financial resources to accomplish the goals. However, health and safety objectives can be made compatible with overall strategic objectives for a corporation. The net result can increase profitability as well as safety for all line and staff employees within the organization. Investments in a safe workplace with respect to nonhuman factors can be considered an important investment in the future success of an organization.
[1.] Arnold, G. "Safety, OSHA, and Management's Responsibility." Industrial Management, Vol. 32, No. 4, 1990, pp. 2-3.
[2.] Feare, T. "Workplace Safety: Where We Stand, What We Need to Do." Modem Materials Handling, Vol. 45, No. 9, 1990, pp. 48-50.
[3.] Kahn, M. "Men Bad Management Becomes Criminal." Inc., Vol. 9, No. 3, 1987, pp. 46-50.
[4.] Joyce, M. "Ergonomics Will Take Center Stage During the '90s and into the New Century." Occupational Health and Safety, Vol. 60, No. 1, 1991, pp. 31-37.
[5.] LaBar, G. "Worker Training: An Investment in Safety." Occupational Hazards, Vol. 53, No. 8, 1991, pp. 23-26.
[6.] Scherer, R., J. Brodzinski, and E. Crable. "The Human Factor in Workplace Accidents." HR Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 4, 1993, pp. 92-97.
[7.] U.S. Department of Labor. "Revised Field Operations Manual." OSHA Instruction CPL 2.45, Washington, D.C., 1989.
[8.] Yohay, S. "Safety and Health Regulation Intensifies." Employee Relations Law journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1991, pp. 323-334.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Sources of Injury: Occupational Safety Trends. Contributors: Scherer, Robert F. - Author, Petrick, Joseph A. - Author, Quinn, John F. - Author. Journal title: Review of Business. Volume: 18. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 1996. Page number: 11+. © 2009 St. John's University, College of Business Administration. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.