Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Disabling the Causes of Lost-Time Injuries. (Leaders)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Disabling the Causes of Lost-Time Injuries. (Leaders)

Article excerpt

The goal of research conducted at the Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health is to reduce or eliminate the causes of disabling occupational injuries. Along the way, its director, Tom Learn on, has become one of the country's most outspoken critics of the way the federal government in general, and NIOSH in particular, spends its occupational safety and health research money.

OH: What does your job as director of the Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health entail?

Leamon: Liberty Mutual has been researching the causes, consequences and prevention of disability for almost 50 years. It will be our jubilee in 2004. 1 have been director for 10 years. I direct Liberty Mutual's research program in occupational safety and rehabilitation.

OH: What type of research is conducted at the center?

Leamon: We don't do property, fire, flammables, etc. Our expertise is in the human factors leading to incidents that cause injury and disability. We base our research on actual claims and what causes them -- things like slippery floors, lifting, utility covers, hand tools. We conduct detailed studies and general research to understanding how people interact with their workplace.

OH: Do you share your findings or are they "trade secrets"?

Leamon: Liberty Mutual gives away all of its findings. We publish them in peer-reviewed literature and share them with anyone interested in improving workplace safety including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and even foreign governments. We are more than happy to share. Our catchphrase is: If you believe you're a leader, then you must act like a leader. Each year, we aim to publish 55 to 60 papers in the very best journals to share our findings.

OH: Speaking of NIOSH...

Leamon: It is no secret I have been a fairly strong critic of NIOSH's research priorities. I want to put my research money where it is going to be most cost-effective. The largest problems involve workers injured during manual material handling tasks who suffer slips and falls or are injured in struck-by/struck-on incidents. Our research projects follow the actual injury experience of the American work force.

Ninety-three percent of lost-time claims are injuries. Seven percent are illnesses, but NIOSH's research spending does not reflect that. …

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