Pokemon Go: How Much of Safety is Protecting People From Their Own Stupidity?

pokemonWord from Washington State, where the Coast Guard is apparently investigating whether the popular game Pokemon Go is creating a safety hazard at a public ferry.  Players use their smartphone maps to track down  “Pokestops,” virtual hotspots where the game designers have placed Pokemon characters.   Unfortunately, a lot of Pokestops have been placed at ferry terminals, resulting in players wandering into unsafe areas, bypassing security rules and generally disrupting the operations, according to Maritime Executive magazine.

It raises a serious and fundamental question about safety and prevention.   Is safety a matter of identifying hazards and then controlling them, the way they explain it in textbooks, or does it also include trying to anticipate every possible thing that humans can to to to under over or through the safety controls we put in place?

Ferry terminals barriers, fences and warning signs to protest passengers, but they are no match for a 22-year old with his nose in an I-phone wandering towards the edge of a pier.   As Albert Einstein famously said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

To address this we can go to one extreme of banning any activity in the name of safety.  There is a famous story of a British man who has been mowing the grass by the roadside by his house in Wiltshire Council for 43 years, but was ordered to stop  by the town council for fear that he might get hurt “whilst working on land that was not his responsibility.”

In general we tend to go to the other extreme.  We develop safety plans and policies for a world where everyone behaves rationally and then we are surprised when they don’t.  For example, there are plenty of signs, walls and barriers at the edges of the Grand Canyon.  Yet, according to a book named Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, two-to-three people fall from the rim and die every year.  Causes include:

  • Crossing retaining walls or guard rails
  • Walking off the trail
  • Jumping rock to rock or ledge to ledge
  • Snow and ice
  • Hiking at night

Would one more sign or barrier fix stupid?   Doubtful.

In every day practice we focus on the physical aspects of safety – the flammability of a chemical or the force of a falling object – because those are the aspects that are the most predictable and can be controlled.  We tend to shy away from the human factors, which turn out to be the least predictable aspects and, lets face it, uncontrollable.  When Yogi Berra said that “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical,” he could have been talking about safety.

Or we could take the opposite approach, as outlined in a famous letter to the editor at the Arizona Republic by a man named Lawrence A. Bullis:

Every day, some new do-gooder is trying to save us from ourselves. We have so many laws and safety commissions to ensure our safety that it seems nearly impossible to have an accident. The problem is that we need accidents, and lots of them.

Danger is nature’s way of eliminating stupid people. Without safety, stupid people die in accidents. Since the dead don’t reproduce, our species becomes progressively more intelligent (or at least less stupid).

With safety, however well-intentioned it may be, we are devolving into half-witted mutants, because idiots, who by all rights should be dead, are spared from their rightful early graves and are free to breed even more imbeciles.

Let’s do away with safety and improve our species. Take up smoking. Jaywalk. Play with blasting caps. Swim right after a big meal. Stick something small in your ear. Take your choice of dangerous activity and do it with gusto. Future generations will thank you.

Pain From OSHA Fine Increase Already Being Felt

What a difference a day makes when if comes to OSHA penalties.  America’s safety watchdog had not raised its penalties since 1990, but last November Congress tied the agency’s fines to inflation and OSHA set August 1st as the day the penalties would go up.  So, if your company was cited by OSHA on Friday, July 29th, you would have been fined under the old penalty schedule.   However, starting on August 1, those fines went up almost 80% to reflect the inflation rate during the 26 years that the penalties were frozen.

So what happened at the beginning of August?  Clearly the price tag for violating safety rules jumped.  To get a feel for how much, I looked at the cases reported by OSHA online for the end of July and beginning of August. (Note: this is by no means scientific. Each case is different, citations change and the agency has a lot of discretion about its recommendations on total fines).

On Monday, August 1st, OSHA issued nearly $900,000 in fines.  All told there were six companies cited with an average fine of $148,617.

However, on Friday July 29th, OSHA cited 21 companies for a total of $3.9 million.   The average fine was $186,288.  That number needs some analysis to get true picture.  Three of those fines were  so high that they need to be considered individually:

  • Fraser Shipyards Inc
  • Tyson Fresh Meats Inc.
  • Material Handling Systems/MHS Technical Services

If those three very large cases are taken out of the total, the fines against the remaining 18 companies averaged $74,281.   So one way to look at the difference for a “run-of-the-mill” case was $74,281 on July 29th vs. $148,617 on August 1st.    That is the type of difference that gets people’s attention!

The hidden headline may be that so many companies were cited right before the deadline went into place.  On most days OSHA cites a handful of companies maybe four-to-six, but on the last day for the lower fines, OSHA cited 21 companies.  Why so many?  The simple answer is that each case is different and it may be impossible to draw conclusions.   There is a lot of communication between OSHA and companies that are under investigation.  It may be that the companies worked hard to clear up problems in order to get the citations handled under the deadline.

Does the abnormal number that “lucked out” matter in terms of a deterrent?  Maybe not. The objective of fines is to cause companies to address safety concerns.  If you were cited under the old schedule and you know that the next violation would skyrocket, you are probably going to do everything possible to fix the problems.

The bottom line is that Congress and OSHA wanted to make sure that penalties have some bite to them.   Looking at the difference in fines from one day to the next shows OSHA is wasting no time in driving home that message.

Worried about the potential impact that higher fines may have on your business?  Contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com for a company safety audit or help in developing an effective safety management program to ensure compliance.

Did The U.S. Government Just Change The Game on Offshore Safety?

In the spring, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published its new rules on blowout preventers and well control for offshore oil and gas companies.    Most of the attention was focused on impacts to drilling operations through tighter regulation of blowout equipment, maintenance and mud densities.

However, a new analysis indicates that the impact may be much broader, forcing changes to the entire offshore oil and gas industry.   The analysis comes from the Van Ness Feldman law firm and it focuses on one small section of the rule.  

Under the section of 30 CFR 250.107 titled “What must I do to protect health, safety, property, and the environment,” BSSE added this:

(a)(3) Utilizing recognized engineering practices that reduce risks to the lowest level practicable when conducting design, fabrication, installation, operation, inspection, repair, and maintenance activities; 

The article points out three reasons why that is important:

  1. It applies to just about everything that happens on offshore leases.  Instead of specifically targeting activities which control hydrocarbons in drilling and production, the section of the regulations applies to the entire process of exploration and development.
  2. What does the term Lowest Level Practicable mean?  It doesn’t mean “lowest priced” and it may not even mean “reasonable.” One definition is “capable of being put into practice.” In BSEE regulations, a reference to “maximum extent practicable” means “within the limitations of available technology.”  Chances are the courts will have to weigh in on what practicable means here.
  3. It is now the law!  Industry experts will tell you they are always looking for ways to reduce risk and they are right.  The challenges of offshore work, the costs of making a mistake and the level of government oversight have driven industry to work at a high level of safety.  But now there is a regulation that says, if the decision is between two options, engineers needs to choose the one that presents the lowest level of risk and there are penalties for the operator and the contractor is that doesn’t happen.

How much offshore activity does this cover? Since almost all significant activities offshore take some level of engineering, it will impact a lot of activities.  How about well interventions?   Liftboat or crane operations? Pipelines that are regulated by BSEE?

What changes could it force?  Here is a partial list:

  • Construction and maintenance records.   No documentation, no proof the rule is being followed.
  • Documentation of engineering processes.  Engineering is usually focused on designs and processes.  Now it may need to look at how options were weighed in reaching decisions.
  • SEMS compliance, especially contractor oversight.  This has largely been performance-based, but this change could mean operators need to get into the decisionmaking process of their contractors.
  • Coordination.   What happens when an operator or contractor choice of the lowest risk option raises the risk for some other contractor or phase of a project?   For example, a larger BOP with redundant systems may be better for preventing a blowout, but it may be too big to be safely installed by the driller.   Who’s risk is more important?

This would be a good time to review your policies and decisionmaking processes, especially management of change.  If you want to make sure your safety management system addresses this new change, contact us at Info@lifelinestrategies.com.




Nothing Fake About Pro-Wrestler Injuries – Workers Comp For the WWE?

Pro-wrestling is big business.   Big contracts.  Big money.  And apparently big injuries.

More than 50 former wrestlers, with stage names like Road Warrior Animal, the Crippler and the Bezerker, have sued World Wresting Entertainment Inc. over head injuries.  At the heart of the case is the allegation that the wrestlers were misclassified as independent contractors.  If the courts agree, the wrestlers may be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.   WWE calls the claims “patently false” and “ridiculous.”

Many of the wrestlers say that repeated blows to the head and concussions left them with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease which has been cited in other sports cases, like the quits against the NFL.  No telling when this video was shot, but the WWE says it banned head blows ten years ago.  The wrestlers in the lawsuit say their injuries preceded that ban:

Thanks for the SafetyAlert Website for this story.  Safety Alert points out that disputes over whether workers are independent contractors are tricky, whether they take place in the office or the ring.  On the one hand, wrestlers sign contracts that explicitly state that they are independent contractors.  On the other hand, courts have held that one test of employment is whether the hiring entity determines how the job is done.   So what about wrestling, where, as the lawsuit claims,

“WWE wrestling matches, unlike other contact sports, involve very specific moves that are scripted, controlled, directed and choreographed by WWE … as such the moves that resulted in named plaintiffs’ head injuries were the direct result of WWE’s action.”

The case will have to go through the courts.  When I was a kid, pro-wrestling was held in school gyms or anywhere else the promoters could get a crowd.  Recently, the WWE was valued by Forbes magazine at about $1.5 billion.   So WWE has a lot of money to spend fighting the lawsuits, but there is also a lot of incentive for retired wrestlers to look for their share.

Making Sense of OSHA’s Confusing New Recordkeeping Rules

Recently  OSHA delayed enforcement of its recordkeeping rule. The announcement drew a lot of attention and, with the new deadline less than 90 days away, I wanted to provide some guidance to help you comply with some of the more controversial pieces.  Much of industry’s confusion is over:

  • The requirements to inform and encourage employees to report injuries in a timely manner, and
  • OSHA’s anti-retribution clause, under which OSHA may fine companies that try to discourage reporting. That included a warning from OSHA to not use post-incident drug testing as a way to discourage reporting.

OSHA says it will come out with guidance on the requirements, but in the meantime, here is some additional information:

Informing workers of their right to report injuries – Employers have a responsibility to make sure their employees understand they have a right to report injuries and illnesses without threat of retaliation. Fortunately this should not be hard to comply with.

  1. Get the latest edition of the OSHA “It’s the Law” worker’s rights poster and post it in a conspicuous place. It can be found here: www.osha.gov/Publications/poster.html.
  2. Cover the information in a safety meeting or toolbox talk. Document the subject and participation by workers.
  3. Update written safety policies with the regulatory information.

Injury Reporting Procedures – OSHA has said, “An employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and must not deter or discourage employees from reporting.” Perform an internal assessment. How do employees report injuries in your company? Who do they report to? What is the reaction of supervisors or managers?


Do not retaliate against workers for reporting injuries – This is a lot trickier than it may appear, because OSHA has taken the position that company policies that punish workers for taking too long to report an injury are retaliatory. From a company perspective when an employee claims that an injury occurred days or even weeks late, it makes it hard to determine if it was indeed work-related and covered by workers comp.

However, in February, OSHA sued US Steel for suspending two workers without pay for five days for not reporting injuries in a timely manner. OSHA said the policy was retaliatory and that workers should have at least seven days to report an injury.  That case settled last month and, among other things, US Steel agreed to a policy that says workers must report injuries as soon as reasonably possible, but in no event later than leaving the plant or eight hours after becoming aware of the injury or illness. They must also report near misses as soon as they are aware of them and no later than when they leave the plant.

What does that mean for employers? You really need to ask qualified counsel that, but it appears to make it easier to adopt policies that require reporting in a reasonable time-frame. However, companies are also advised to communicate very clearly with their employees why they have the policy and why quick reporting helps improve their overall recovery if they are injured.

Again, OSHA has said it will come out with guidance for industry on compliance, but these suggestions should help companies prepare for the new deadline, which hits November 1st.
For more information, contact info@lifelinestrategies.com.