Companies that have been through the brutal downturn in oil are coming to realize that what we thought would be a boom is sounding more like a pop. Even though we are clearly in a recovery, prices have been stuck in a narrow range (low-to-mid $50’s for West Texas Intermediate) for more than three months. The slogan has become Lower for Longer and industry needs to think through what that means, including safety departments.
The practice has been called Name and Shame or just The Shame Game. Under the Obama Administration, OSHA would publicize large fines on businesses, usually when the fines were levied. The idea was that the publicity would do as much as a fine to encourage businesses to adopt safer practices.
In December for example, OSHA put out 30 news releases identifying companies that had been cited for safety violations. For the first three weeks of January, OSHA put out 16 news releases. And then suddenly, the news releases stopped….right before Donald Trump’s Inauguration. OSHA is still fining violators; about 50 have been cited since the last public news release. The citations are still being posted on the OSHA website. However, OSHA is not going out of its way to call out the violators publicly. Continue reading “The Future of OSHA: End of The Shame Game?”
The Centers For Disease Control came out with a startling report this month. A CDC survey on hearing found that one out of every five Americans in their 20’s have some hearing loss. Since hearing generally deteriorates with age, evidence that so many your adults already have hearing loss makes it a bit of a time bomb for the future.
The CDC also found two other significant trends. The first is that fully a quarter of the people surveyed who said they had good to excellent hearing actually had some hearing loss, meaning that we can’t exactly “trust our ears” to tell us when we have hearing loss. Gradual changes may not be apparent to us. Continue reading “Hearing Loss – Is This The Next Big Workplace Injury Challenge?”
The famous actress Mae West said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Maybe so, but news from Australia indicates that putting too much emphasis on reducing lost time injury statistics is producing some less-than-wonderful unintended consequences. Continue reading “Gaming The Injury System: Australian Postal Services Gets Called Out”
I have had several requests for HazMat and HazCom training recently and have found a lot of confusion in what companies were actually looking for. In talking to some colleagues, I realized that this is a fairly common problem. Companies all need to provide OSHA HazCom training and ones that ship transport or receive hazardous materials need to provide DOT HazMat, but they may not know where one stops and the other starts. It is understandable because they overlap and a lot of classes are hybrids of the two. Continue reading “HazMat Prep and Response Training”
A lot of companies have a safety manual that they bought from a service or maybe it was written by some previous safety manager and tends to be updated only when things change. Over time, we tend to accept our written policies and procedures without looking at what they are supposed to accomplish. Managing workplace injuries is one of those areas. So just to take a fresh look at the issue, let’s go back to what the OSHA regulations actually say about managing injuries. It is found in the Medical Services and First Aid Standard (29 CFR 1910.151). It is very simple and very clear:
1910.151(a) The employer shall ensure the ready availability of medical personnel for advice and consultation on matters of plant health.
1910.151(b) In the absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace which is used for the treatment of all injured employees, a person or persons shall be adequately trained to render first aid. Adequate first aid supplies shall be readily available.
New doctors take an oath to “Do no harm.” In safety and occupational medicine, the challenge is to not implement new rules that wind up creating new and potentially worse problems. We’ve seen time and time again that the Law of Unintended Consequences can be unforgiving. Continue reading “NFL Lessons on Occupational Medicine: Law of Unintended Consequences”
Let me share with you a blog that I provided to the American Society of Safety Engineers on some best practices to consider as you set up an injury management program. You can find the full post here.
I am a strong believer that safety departments do a much better job on the prevention side than in reducing the extent of injuries after they happen. What many don’t fully understand is that there is a cost to injuries, but a failure to address the injury properly after it happens can make that cost skyrocket. Continue reading “5 Steps to Effective Injury Management – Blog Post From ASSE”
Google the phrase “Safety starts at the top” and you will get more than 6,000 results. We automatically accept that the CEO sets the tone on safety in a company.
What if the people at the top don’t know the true state of safety in their organizations? DNV GL just released a study that makes that point crystal clear. The report, SHORT-TERM AGILITY, LONG-TERM RESILIENCE, looks at a lot of issues facing the oil and gas industry as it attempts to recover, including the impact of intense cost cutting on overall safety. DNV GL’s survey of executives found that more than half expect to continue to lay off workers in 2017 and one-third expect to reduce spending on training and competency systems. Only a handful expect to increase spending on health, safety, and environmental programs.
Here’s the most interesting part of the DNV GL study – They asked different levels within organizations whether cost-cutting initiatives were increasing health and safety risk.
Only one-in-10 of the executives thought cutbacks in the company had increased safety risks. However, roughly one-in-four of the people who were closest to the ground – either business unit heads of non-managers – thought there was increased risk.
What does this mean? There are a couple of scenarios. Both spell trouble:
Scenario One: The heads of units and rank-and-file workers overestimate the risk. That is natural. Good unit and line managers worry about risk a lot because they are directly responsible for controlling it. Cuts came to programs they were directly involved in, so they felt them directly. Let’s also accept that some safety programs may not have been all that effective in the first place and cutting them doesn’t materially impact risk. The danger here is that, if unit managers and people in the field overestimate risk, the top executives have failed to communicate why and how their companies are going to run lean without sacrificing safety.
Scenario Two: Oil patch execs don’t have a true feel for the safety risks in the field. The danger there is even greater, because the people who run the companies may not have enough visibility on their exposure to accidents, injuries and losses. Either way, it could spell trouble.
Part of the problem is that top execs usually look at programs (budgets for safety may not have been cut as much as other parts of the company), stats (usually recordable injuries and time away from work, which should be lower if there is less work and you aren’t hiring inexperienced employees). As the study points out, part of the problem is:
the distance between the boardroom of the budget-setters and the risks in the field. Senior management often have good sight of formal indicators (such as lost-time injuries or days away from work) but can sometimes be too far from operations to see things like corroding steel,failing pipework, structural problems or workforce overload.
However, we are now three years into a serious downturn. Maintenance and replacements have been deferred. A lot of the tools that give executives objective visibility into field conditions, like audits and inspections, have been reduced, if not cut. If the company relies on contractors, survival has meant requiring those contractors to make their own deep cuts, forcing them to figure out how to make ends meet.
The disconnect on safety perception between the C-suite and the people who are closest to the work is not unique to this downturn or even oil and gas. It shows up frequently in surveys of every industry. A 2010 survey of company culture on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in Australia asked people throughout company structures
about their safety programs. About 85% of the Owners and CEO’s said they agreed or strongly agreed that “Top level management demonstrates a commitment to OHS.” Down at the field or specialist level, that number fell to less than 60%.
Some of this has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the way information is shared in organizations. There is a popular pyramid graph that shows how much bad news is actually shared within an organization. The message is that only about four percent of the problems experienced in the field actually make it to the CEO’s desk. The warning is that no one wants to bring the boss bad news.
As oil and gas recovers, companies put more crews in the field, new people get hired and equipment utilization goes up. The potential for incidents related to equipment failures, over-work or lack of training goes up the way too much pressure can find a weak spot in a balloon.
CEOs and their executive teams need to be actively engaged in identifying risk and addressing weaknesses. Unit managers need to be honest about what they are seeing in the field. Above all, CEOs need to invest in communicating with every level of their organizations so they have a true picture of their exposure and ensuring that no one is afraid to bring bad news to their doors.
Last year, OSHA pushed through one of the most dramatic changes in how companies track injuries and illnesses at work. The new injury reporting regulations required many companies to provide their annual injury and illness information electronically. Much of it would be posted online for the public to see. The rule also prohibited companies from discouraging reporting or punishing employees who do report injuries.
The changes went fully into effect at the start of this month, although OSHA still does not have the electronic submission system up and running yet. Industry has been very concerned about the potential for injury information to be visible to customers, competitors, unions or public opponants, as well being confused by the vague languge covering the ban on discouraging reporting.
Taking It To The Courts
Now a coalition of businesses that includes everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Turkey Federation has sued to stop the change from being enforced. That case was filed in the federal court for the Western Oklahoma District. An earlier lawsuit is also moving in the federal court for Northern Texas. That one includes the National Asssociation of Manufacturers.
The latest lawsuit challenges the rule, in part, because the plaintiffs say OSHA may be able to collect injury data, but it does not have legal authority to share it with the public. It will be up to the court, based on the evidence, to decide whether that is the case or whether OSHA does have the authority. However, one reaons the industry groups chose the Western Oklahoma is because it has a reputation for being conservative and employer-friendly.
The Trump Administration May Have An Impact on The Case
This is one case where the timing of the rule, the lawsuit and the election may help employers. It is possible that the new administration may intervene to support the industry lawsuits. In that case, the weight of arguing that the rule should stay in place could fall on some third party, such as unions. A spokesperson for the AFL-CIO is quoted as saying that organized labor is reviewing the case now.
The biggest impact will come if the courts side with employers and say that OSHA does not have the authority to impose the rule. The U.S. Solicitor General, who will be a Trump appointee, will decide whether the U.S. government appeals the case. If there is no appeal, it usually means that the decision stands. In this case it would mean that the rule would be tossed out.
So there is a lot riding on the two cases. Employers should be ready to comply, but they should also keep up with the latest twists and turns as the lawsuits progress.
What The Rule Says
Under the change, establishments with 250 or more employees are requried to submit the following forms electronically :
- 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses),
- 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and
- 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report).
Much of that information would be available online for the public to see, minus names and other privacy-related information. Certain smaller companies would just need to report their 300A summary online. The rule also contained confusing language prohibiting companies from discouraging reporting, including a ban on certain post-injury drug testing.