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Occupational Safety Blog

By Fred Rine, CEO of FDRsafety and former long-time Managing Director of Safety and Health at FedEx, Jim Stanley, President of FDRsafety and former No. 2 at OSHA headquarters and Mike Taubitz, Senior Advisor to FDRsafety and former Global Safety Director for General Motors.

Archive for March, 2010

OSHA turns up heat on state programs, Wall Street Journal says

March 31st, 2010 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

OSHA has opened up another front in its campaign to boost enforcement and is increasing the pressure on states that have their own occupational safety regulatory programs, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal this week.

OSHA “is pushing for states to follow national programs that target certain industries or certain types of safety concerns and is ramping up its state-review process,” the Journal article says.
The plan comes after revelations that Nevada’s agency may have fallen short following a string of construction deaths in that state.

“Workplace-safety advocates say that if successful, the administration’s approach could correct what they say has been too-loose oversight of state agencies from the federal government in recent years, which they argue led to weaker enforcement of safety laws,” the Journal article says.

“But the operators of some state workplace-safety agencies say they fear an adversarial relationship, and caution against increasing demands in a time of budget cuts.”

About half of the states have their own occupational safety regulatory agencies. The federal government has responsibility to monitor them to insure that they are as effective as OSHA, which regulates safety matters in the remaining states.”

The full version of the Journal article is available only to subscribers.

New group on LinkedIn discusses safety and sustainability

March 24th, 2010 posted by Mike Taubitz

Mike Taubitz

Safety and sustainability are really about the same thing – conserving resources with respect for people and environment as core values. In the case of safety, it’s about conserving human resources. A group has just formed on LinkedIn to discuss these issues. It is called SHE, sustainability and Lean .

Join in and see my post below discussing this issue.

How safety fits with sustainability

March 24th, 2010 posted by Mike Taubitz

Mike Taubitz

Sustainability is a board level issue in most companies. It is a complex strategic challenge that balances social, economic and ecological issues for sustainable growth of the organization.

In its simplest form, sustainability can be remembered as “People, Profit and Planet.” The question for safety professionals is “where do we fit into this C-suite initiative?” If you have a sound safety process, my suggestion is to make sure that safety is a value within the organization.

Sustainability, “green” and environment are terms often used interchangeably. For clarification and purposes of this blog, let us agree that “green” and environment is essentially the same thing. While key, they are part of “planet” – just one piece of the overall equation for sustainable growth. People and profit need to be there. When safety becomes a 24-7 value, it forms the foundation of respect for people. Add respect for environment and you have the necessary building blocks to link safety to sustainability in your organization.

That building block comes about when you merge safety with lean. That may be happening in some organizations but it is not apparent if one does an internet search.

What is both visible and apparent is that lean production is aligning with “green.” We know this because a quick internet search for “lean and green” will show pages of hits. Lean production not only drives the economic (profit) part of the equation but also is founded on the identification and elimination of waste. Fewer wastes in the production and business process reduce air, water and solid wastes. This is a true “win-win” that explains the alignment of these two pillars of sustainability.

The social or “people” pillar includes both employees and external communities. The concern I have is that when you read the scores of hits displayed on your “lean and green” search, you will note an absence of “safety.” Do we not consider injury and illness waste? Don’t we have safety as a value in our organizations? How can we discuss “people are our most valuable asset” if safety is not forefront with strategic issues such as sustainability?

I know from first-hand experience that many companies are doing an excellent job making sure employee safety is fully integrated into the fabric of daily business. However, it would appear that something is amiss on the national scene. Occasionally, you see safety mentioned as the 6th “S” in the 5S process. (5S is five-step process of 1) sort, 2) straighten, 3) shine, 4) standardize, 5) sustain used to clean and organize the workplace). That is tokenism, not full integration because 5S is only one part of a very large toolkit to improve operational performance. (I’ll have a series of blogs on this topic to help you understand how to use this as a foundation for lean and safe)

We should all strive to have lean, green and safety operating seamlessly and concurrently. We accomplish that by the identification and elimination of waste. Let’s make this a personal challenge within our organizations and professional groups. It is time that we place the health and well-being of employees and their family’s forefront in the strategy of sustainability.

With the understanding that “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” I submit the following for comment using safety as foundation and part of the steps to sustainable growth.
safety and sustainability

OSHA director pushes for larger penalties

March 17th, 2010 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Penalties for violation of OSHA standards are not high enough to discourage some employers from violating the law and they ought to be increased, according to the agency’s new director.

“Most employers want to do the right thing. But many others will only comply with OSHA rules if there are strong incentives to do so,” Dr. David Michaels testified to a congressional subcommittee yesterday. “OSHA’s current penalties are often not large enough to provide adequate incentives, and we are very low in comparison with those of other public health agencies,” Michaels said.

Michaels testimony was to the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. The subcommittee is holding hearings on the proposed Protecting America’s Workers Act, which would make a number of revisions to workplace health and safety law.

Michaels said that environmental laws carry much heavier penalties than penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. For example, in 2001 a tank of sulphuric acid exploded at a Delaware oil refinery, killing an employee. The OSHA penalty was $175,000, Michaels said. Yet in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act citation of $10 million.

Lockout/tagout: New thinking improves performance

March 15th, 2010 posted by Mike Taubitz

Mike Taubitz

Lockout and tagout appear to have a perennial lock as one of OSHA’s top 10 violations each year. It is a tough challenge in any organization getting employees to take time to isolate and lockout potentially hazardous energy. As I look back now, I realize that I missed something when I first started dealing with the issue in the ‘70s and the ‘80s. First, some background:

When we discovered violations of lockout, it was common to counsel, warn and retrain employees using skills-based training. Eventually, we tried to see things through the eyes of employees and recognized more clearly the issues posed by design constraints.

As an example, in large manufacturing facilities it was common to find disconnects located in overhead mezzanines where electrical panels for transfer lines and other special equipment were placed to maximize floor space. Access to these panels and their disconnects was by walking up a properly guarded ladder. Let’s face it, ladders cost much less and use far less space than stairs.

Put yourself in the place of a maintenance worker performing a task that required lockout. It required walking to the ladder, up the ladder, determining which panel controlled the hazardous energy, pulling the disconnect and then locking it with a personal lock. Back down the stairs to perform the task. Then, a repeat of the prior steps to remove the lock and re-energize the power was necessary.

In addition, there might be another problem that would require further work and a repeat of the lockout sequence.

We determined that existing standards had been developed by experts with electrical backgrounds. Overhead disconnects were great for electricians working on electrical panels, motors and other overhead equipment, but what about personnel on the factory floor? Disconnects were ultimately placed at both floor level and mezzanine to accommodate work being performed at both levels. For me, it was my first insight into what later came to be called Safety Thru Design and now Prevention Thru Design being led by NIOSH. (More on these in later blog posts.)

The better designs improved compliance with employees following standard safety procedures.

It was clear that the old designs required significantly more time to properly lockout. In some cases, the time to lockout equaled the time to perform the work. Furthermore, climbing a vertical ladder is anything but comfortable. Was it any wonder that employees chose to take shortcuts?

What I failed to see back then was how profound the time and comfort issues were in the overall scheme of things. It is another example of how I had my eyes opened sitting through my first FDSsafety awareness session. Had I recognized time and comfort issues as pervasive drivers of behavior, perhaps we would have not only worked on the technical challenges but also tried a “softer approach” to offset the natural tendencies to take shortcuts.

Where lockout and tagout is involved, employees must always be thinking of their family and that their personal safety cannot be compromised – regardless of time and/or comfort issues.

Just receive a letter from OSHA? Here’s what to do

March 12th, 2010 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

OSHA just sent letters to 15,000 companies advising that their accident rates were substantially above average. While the letters don’t specifically say so, this likely means an inspection is on the way, especially given OSHA’s recent push on enforcement.

There are five things that should be on the immediate to-do list for every company that received the letter. Read about them in our newsletter.

Safety training is most effective when it changes attitudes

March 8th, 2010 posted by Mike Taubitz

Mike Taubitz

Back in the ‘70s, I moved from engineering to head the Education and Training department in a large automotive engine plant. As an engineer with no formal education in this field, I was unfamiliar with the proper way to assess skill level if we had an employee performance issue. I will never forget the simple test suggested by an experienced colleague.

He offered, “Put an imaginary gun to the employee’s head and tell them to do the job. If they can do it, you’re dealing with an attitude issue – not a skills issue.” Granted, that is a crude metric but it serves as a valid test when we encounter employees taking shortcuts in safety.

Ask employees, “Do you know how to do this job?” and you will most often receive an affirmative answer. Then ask if he/she knows how to do the job safely. My experience suggests that you will again hear a “yes.” If you believe those responses as I do (why would the employee lie?), why do we insist on using skills training to deal with an attitude issue?

We in health and safety use the tools most available in our toolkit – more skills training. Analysis of incident/near miss reports, bolstered by personal experience, suggests that employee training or retraining is often referred to as appropriate corrective action. (I will not digress about the problems with incident investigation and the lack of root cause analysis because it will detract from the point I wish to make in this blog.) Think about how you approach lockout issues, incidents with fork trucks, fall hazards, etc. Usually we put employees back through our available skills training, hoping that it will somehow change their views on working and acting safely. Is it any wonder that employees complain about safety training being boring?

If we want sustainable growth in our companies and wish to prove that “people are our most valuable asset,” it is crucial that we try to get to the hearts as well as the minds so that employees use the skills and knowledge they already possess.

Listed below are my criteria for effective safety training that contributes to sustainability:

  • Face to face with a simple, easy to understand message and provided by a knowledgeable and credible facilitator/trainer
  • Promotes the view that safety is a value on and off the job and that safety is a value within the organizational culture, facilitating a sustainable future
  • Respectful of individuals and different views
  • Open dialogue about real world issues with individual and team interaction
  • Promotes the concept that safety should be “want to” because of family and concern for others, not “have to” because of OSHA and company rules

It is time that we start dealing with the real world and talk with employees as adults and the real reasons why we all take shortcuts.

The causes of construction accidents and what to do about them

March 4th, 2010 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

The majority of construction accidents are not due to a lack of training, skill or knowledge — nearly all accidents are simply related to poor decision-making.

Whether an employee is talking on a cell phone while working or not wearing his/her personal protective equipment, many workers have placed themselves and others at needless risk to save time or be more comfortable.

But there are ways to combat this kind of decision-making by creating a safety culture on construction sites. Among the ingredients: accountability, demonstrated commitment by management, zero tolerance for unsafe practices and creating an atmosphere where workers are acting safely because they want to, not because they have to.

All this and more is the subject of an article I wrote in the current issue of Occupational Health and Safety magazine. It is posted elsewhere on this website and I invite you to have a look.