Sources of Injury: Occupational Safety Trends

By Scherer, Robert F.; Petrick, Joseph A. et al. | Review of Business, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Sources of Injury: Occupational Safety Trends


Scherer, Robert F., Petrick, Joseph A., Quinn, John F., Review of Business


Summary

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.

Introduction

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[7]. 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[7]. 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.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

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].

Non-Human Factors

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. …

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