Working for Safety

Injuries are the sworn mortal enemy of every safety manager in the country. Many companies see zero injuries as both an achievable and realistic goal, and an opportunity for cost savings. Some companies even try to keep their injury rate low by denying there are injuries. Proactive measures generally work out better.

Let’s break down various ways to prevent injuries in the workplace:

Built-In Safety
An engineering approach to injury prevention is used whenever possible. This approach is the most sure-fire. Like the airbags in your car, no operator action is required; the safety is built in. There are many examples of this in various workplaces – non-skid matting, saw guards and electrical grounding of machines. An engineering approach is often used after an injury calls attention to a problem. It’s even better to go through the workplace with a safety expert to identify problems and look for engineering solutions proactively.

The next avenue of injury prevention is training. While teaching someone to pump their brakes in an emergency stop will never be as good as anti-skid computerized breaking (an engineering fix), trained individuals will do better than untrained ones. Some work activities are inherently hazardous, even with the best safety engineering. In these instances, training and retraining are the best you can do. The more involved and participatory the employee is in the training, the better the outcome. Training needs to be designed to help keep someone’s attention (we all know what it’s like to watch those dreaded training videos). Repetition also reinforces the training. In the best model, the information is presented at intervals and in different formats to avoid loss of interest. Live demonstration is the best. Show people exactly how to do something and then evaluate how well they do it on their own; give them feedback and help them properly adjust their body to suit the task. Specialists such as U.S. HealthWorks know how to perform these critical evaluations. Ask them or other similar experts for help.

Motivation is also used for injury prevention. Motivation, however, sometimes seems to follow the law of unintended consequence. Offering a reward for no injuries in a given month or quarter both motivates employees to work safer and to not report their injuries. On the surface, this would seem to be desirable to the employer. Unfortunately, not all injuries heal properly without care; some get considerably worse, and will end up hurting the employee and his employer much more. So, motivation is useful, but it needs to be carefully considered to avoid unintended results.

Occupational Medicine Providers
Picking a good occupational medicine provider is also useful in preventing injuries. Some injuries are minor and need little more than some evaluation (attention) and reassurance. Your provider should have the expertise to determine whether these are first aid-only visits.

Always Report
Some employers do injury “prevention” by intentionally not reporting the injury. This is not without risk in several ways. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can impose some daunting fines for those who deliberately avoid reporting an injury. The untreated employee’s injury could worsen, sometimes into something permanent. That is a tragedy for the employee and can be a legal battle for the employer for years to come. Even a late reporting of an injury can cause problems when it’s finally evaluated – the claim is likely a mess. The late report calls the patient’s integrity into question by the carrier and even the physician which could result in delayed care, further compounding the patient’s injury.

Injury prevention is an active field of research. There are experts in the field that can help you safely lower your injury rate. Having a good working relationship with your employees goes a long way to getting their support in this quest. Having a doctor you trust also helps.

Dr. B

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