Safety: Photographic Proof That We Are Our Own Worst Enemies

When I saw these pictures, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.   They show just how far we will go to make our lives easier or to get things done quicker.  One of my primary professional beliefs is that there is no safety barrier that can withstand the average 22 year old, if ignoring it helps him get the job done faster or by working less.  But the following pictures, allegedly showing how “Broke College Students Proved They’re The Smartest People Ever” are beyond anything I could imagine.  Just remember, the kids who did these things are likely to come work for your company.  Good luck!

If you want to see the rest of the pictures, click here.

Who Needs An Oven When You Have A Clothes Iron?

Sorry, We Do Not Have A Microwave Available To Guests

Buy your groceries, push them home and cook them all using the same cart.  What could go wrong?

I'm A Practical Grill

Its a lot easier to find a chair than to repair a broken sofa.

Couch Fix

Sometimes the lazy solution takes more work than doing it the right way, but you have to admire the creativity that went into this.

New Year’s Resolutions For Safety Pros.

What are your resolutions for making your company safer in 2017?  If you were to focus your attention on things that will reduce accidents and improve operations, what would you put on the list?

I recently ran across a pretty good list, courtesy of the UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency.  They call it the “Deadly Dozen – 12 Significant People Factors in Maritime Safety.”  The guidance document is based on factors that can lead to human-error incidents. Human error, of course, has been blamed for 90% of all accidents.

Although the guidance is written for the maritime industry, it applies to every industry.   Here is the list:

  Problem Issue Factor in Near Misses
1.  Fit for Duty Are you REALLY fit to work? .8%
2.  Fatigue  Just Tired OR Dangerously Fatigued? 1.2%
3.  Distractions Multi-Tasking OR Dangerously Distracted? 1.8%
4.  Pressure Just Busy OR Dangerously Overloaded? 1.9%
5.  Capability Is Your Team REALLY Capable? 4.9%
6.  Teamwork  How Well Do You REALLY Work Together? 6.8%
7. Local Practices Efficiency OR Dangerous Shortcut? 7.4%
8. Culture Do You REALLY have a good safety culture? 11.4%
9.  Complacency Is Everything REALLY OK? 12.5%
10.  Communication  Do You REALLY Understand Everyone? 13.4%
11.  Alerting (Stop Work) Do You REALLY Speak Up When You Should? 15.3%
12.  Situational Awareness Do You REALLY Know What’s Happening? 22.5%

Some of the numbers on the right may be a little off, probably reflecting the way the incidents and causes were reported.  Distraction and capability would be two examples that may be significant causes, but are not captured in the commonly used fields for incident reports (none of us ever wants to report that we lacked capability to do our jobs).   However if you think back to your experiences with incidents, this is a pretty good list, wouldn’t you say?

The next step is how to identify these deadly dozen in practice before there is an incident, then look for ways to monitor them and remove them as triggers for human error accidents.  The guidance document digs deeper into each issue and how to address them.

The document also contains a good graphic that displays the deadly dozen:



OSHA Issues Internal Guidance On Enforcing Safety Regs In The Oil Patch

At the beginning of December, OSHA issued enforcement guidance to its
Regional Administrators titled “Enforcement Guidance For Upstream Oil And Gas Extraction Industries.”  The purpose is to make sure there are consistent field interpretations of:

– The scope of oil and gas drilling and production;

Applicable OSHA regulations and directives; and

– Common hazards and incidents found in the industry.

The Focus of The Guidance: Generally, there is not much that new or different in the document, but there are a couple of areas that I will focus on at the end of this blog..  Guidance documents don’t break new ground; they are meant to make sure there are common understandings, but that is what makes it so valuable.   Oil and gas operations can be very confusing from a regulatory standpoint.  At certain stages, they fall under the construction standard and at other times they fall under the general industry standard.  Other activities that are integral to drilling and production do not fall under the classifications for oil and gas at all.   There are also a long list of regulations that oil and gas are specifically excluded from and another list of interpretations that target oil and gas.

If it is confusing for the agency, it is also confusing for many in industry.   So the document is a valuable one that can make sure we all speak the same language.  For that reason, industry safety professionals would be well advised to read the guidance and keep a copy handy for reference purposes.

Would you like a copy of the guidance?  OSHA does not appear to have posted a copy online yet, but if you would like to review the document, contact me at  

What May Be New In The Guidance:  There are two things in the document that are worth paying close attention to.  Neither one is groundbreaking and OSHA has already applied them in other circumstances.  The important thing is that OSHA is telling its field units to pay attention to them as enforcement concerns in Oil and Gas.  That means industry should pay attention to them as well.

  1. Host companies and the role of the company man – OSHA has put out a lot of guidance on enforcement of safety violations on multi-employer worksites, where there is a host company and one or more contracted companies whose employees work on the site.   OSHA’s position is that an employer of any kind is citable if it is “a creating, exposing, correcting, or controlling employer.”  The prominent role that this issue plays in the guidance could signal a move by OSHA to increase citations on both the oil and gas operator and contractors when there is an incident.   The document makes it clear that OSHA is still developing additional guidance on the role that company men play in protecting operator and service company employees from hazards.

  2. Hazards that are not covered by regulations, but are part of industry standards or accepted practice – As safety professionals are acutely aware, OSHA’s General Duty Clause allows investigators to cite companies for hazards that may not be covered by regulations, but employers should have known about.  The document makes it clear that inspectors and investigators can cite employers if something is covered by an industry standard or an accepted practice document, even if it is not found in the regulations.

The guidance contains one example that bring in both the multi-employer and General Duty Clause interpretations.  in the example, an inspector arrives at a drill site to find a crewmember sitting in a truck about 75 feet from the rig with the engine running.   There is nothing in the regulations prohibiting that, but it puts the truck at risk if the drilling rig topples over and it creates an explosion hazard if there is gas near the rig.  An API recommended practice says all vehicles should be at least 100 feet from rig operations.  The enforcement document says the inspector may decide to cite both the operator and the contractor under the General Duty Clause.

This is the OSHA playbook on oil and gas exploration and production.   Safety professionals can ignore it at their own risk!


Driverless Cars: Putting the Autonomous Cart Before the Horse?

Take a look at the logos below.   These are the 33 different entities that are working on building driverless cars, according to the CB insights research groups.


Right now the leader of the pack is Tesla, which has sold about 70,000 cars capable of using autopilot and has plans to produce about 500,000 cars, all with auto-pilot by 2018.

Ready or not, here comes the age of the driverless car.  It is a textbook example of a technology hitting the street  (literally) before the regulations, legal questions, insurance coverage and infrastructure have had a chance to catch up.

This past summer Tesla made williston-f3.jpg
history when one of its cars became the first autonomous car to be involved in fatal accident. The NTSB is still investigating the accident but its preliminary report says the car was going 74 mph on a highway posted for 65 mph.

The Department of Transportation has issued a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy that is more of a roadmap for the steps that agencies need to take in order to regulate vehicle development.  As the Secretary of Transportation has said, Let’s not replace human-caused crashes with computer-caused crashes…“autonomous vehicles are coming,” whether the world is “ready or not.”

So it seems a little surprising that the Liberty Mutual Research Institute For Safety, which is funded by Liberty Mutual Insurance and has done outstanding research on vehicle accidents, has taken a very welcoming view of the future of autonomous cars.  In fact a new analysis report from the institute says on its first page, “Whether it takes 20, 40 or 100 years to achieve full automation, automated vehicles have the potential to make roadways safer.”

Faced with so many questions and concerns that the car makers may be moving faster than law enforcement and the public are ready, why would one of the most respected safety research groups be so optimistic?  The answer seems be that humans are so bad behind the wheel that robots can only be an improvement.   The head of the institute makes the point that “driver error is a contributing factor in 70-90 percent of all road vehicle crashes.”

Put another way, an american dies in a crash every 15 minutes.  Vehicle accidents are a major reason that workplace fatalities have stopped falling and started rising.  The institute is saying that no driver may be safer than the drivers that are out there right now.

In fact, the articles point out that, in addition to our concerns over the technology and its potential for failure, we need to carefully study how people will react with the technology.  Human factors are about more than just errors.  They are about how humans interact and adapt to technology through design, engineering, and execution.  Aviation went through similar considerations as autopilot systems were introduced to airplanes.  In this case, the automakers are not likely to slow down their development.  It may be up to the rest of us to catch up.

Safety in America: A Mixed Report Card

When I talk to a lot of the most experienced HSE professionals about the next steps in improving safety, a surprising number of them are not sure where we go from here.   We have made a lot of progress.  The profession has never been as highly educated and respected within individual organizations.  We are spending more on safety and we know more than we ever did about all of the tools that belong in a safety toolbox.  But you have the sense from talking to the experts that the pace of improvement is slowing.   Simply put, when we had a lot more accidents, instituting a new safety approach was likely to produce great results, but now that we have gotten down to just a few accidents, addressing those last few is expensive, time-consuming and frustrating.  And some of our assumptions about the relationship between injuries and fatalities are being called into question.

The latest statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on injuries and fatalities point that out.   There is a very good overview of the injury statistics in Insurance Journal magazine called What Latest U.S. Statistics on Nonfatal Workplace Injuries Reveal.  The headline news is that workplace injuries continue to drop.

The blue line at the top shows that the Total Recordables Cases (TRC) has dropped for the 12th straight year.  That is progress.  For comparisons sake, local government, which has a much less rigorous approach to safety, has a TRC of 5.6.  So that is really good news.   But it is flattening out.

Now look at the red line.  That’s the DART rate, the rate that looks at days away from work, and it has been relatively flat since 2009.  Progress yes, but not the kind we had been experiencing.

Now look at fatalities. The results are disturbing.

Apologies for the blurry graph.  What it shows is that after falling since 1994 fatalities have risen for the past four years, up to 4821 in 2014. True, the workforce has grown and, if you normalize the data, it shows that fatalities had been somewhat flat for the past few years.  But in 2014, the rate per 100,000 workers went up.  That is a trend we need to worry about.

What does this tell us?  Here are five takeaways:

  1. The “easy” solutions are already in place – Our safety meetings, our JSA’s and all of our safety policies and procedures got us to this point.  They contributed to a substantial and impressive decrease in the number of on-the-job injuries.  However, we are somewhat stuck and we need to become more creative and open to other approaches.

  2. The numbers of injuries and fatalities are no longer paired – Most safety professionals are familiar with Heinrich’s law, developed in the 1930’s, which said that for every major injury accident, companies may expect 29 minor injury accidents and 300 “accidents” with no injury.   Statistical analysis over the last few years have found this to still be a valuable ratio.  It supports the idea that minor and major injuries (or deaths) are connected and if you reduce minor accidents you will also reduce deaths.   What these latest numbers show us is that that connection may not be a strong as we think.  My injury rate may fall because I have a great slip, trip and fall program, but it doesn’t help protect an electrician from dying in an arc flash.

  3. We need to question the effectiveness of some of the tools we are using – Online contractor evaluations and training programs have seen spectacular growth in the last five years, but that coincides with the stall-out in injury reductions and the increase in fatalities.  Those tools may be effective, but the numbers show they aren’t stand-alone solutions.  They should enhance or safety initiatives, not replace them.

  4. We need to look at the changing landscape of hazards and risk – This may be the real key.  The rise in smartphone use and other distractions is clearly impacting driving safety.  Companies are starting to see this as their biggest unaddressed hazard, but it has proven very hard to solve.  Prescription painkillers and opioids are increasingly a concern.  Traditional approaches to drug use may need to adapt for a world where more workers are impaired by legal prescription drugs.  

  5. We could stand to lose a few pounds too – Ok, maybe this one is a stretch, but obesity and its companion problems can affect injuries, balance and stamina.  We are also part of an aging workforce and with age comes a change in the risk level of existing hazards.  

On injuries, there is still a lot of room for improvement on safety, but the race gets harder the closer you get to the finish line.  On fatalities, we need to tackle the problem now before it gets worse.   We have our work cut out for us.