Last time, we discussed the cost of off the job injuries. Before getting into controlling those costs, let's tackle an even more basic question: Why should the occupational safety professional care about injuries that their workers sustain when they're not at work?
The Impact of Off the Job Injury
Why should you help workers avoid off the job injury? The answer, quite simply, is that within company circles, you're the only one who can.
Think about it. Not too many workers are likely to take an interest in safety advice from an accountant or tax attorney. And while the people in the finance and disability management departments might have an interest in off the job injury, their primary concern is not injury avoidance as much as minimizing the costs of those injuries that do occur. And if the company is self-insured (as most big companies are), the finance folks might not even be involved in that.
Thus, like it or not, only the safety professional has the credibility and know-how to tackle the elephant of off the job injury. Not that you have to do it all by yourself. You're going to need the support from your CFO.
Rising to the Challenge
What can you do to wrestle with the elephant? First and foremost, you need to find your motivation. Personally, I find listening to hundreds and hundreds of stories a year about off the job injuries and fatalities to be very motivating. Going to my secretary's brother's funeral over the Christmas holidays a few years ago supplied me with more motivation than I wanted.
Hopefully, you'll find your motivation in less extreme circumstances. But the important thing to keep in mind is that there's more than just money at stake. Much, much more. The elephant kills 8,000 children in Canada and the U.S. every year. And that's just the children. . .
Which brings us back to the question: What can you really do to improve off the job safety?
Let's start with some of the easy stuff: sending first-aid kits home and offering safety glasses for the kids to wear when they're mowing the lawn (not too expensive, but not free). These measures don't do any harm; unfortunately, they don't do a whole heckuva lot of good, either. First-aid kits do not prevent injuries; and not too many people lose their eyesight mowing the lawn. To tackle the elephant, we need much stronger measures. We'll talk about these measures next week.
Rethinking Evacuation Strategies
|This may not be the best advice after all|
IN CASE OF FIRE USE THE STAIRS, NOT THE ELEVATOR
This sign, which appears on any building that has an elevator, is one of those safety mantras that has become ingrained into our consciousness. But now some of the safety assumptions underlying these words are coming under question.
Are stairs always a safer evacuation route than the elevator in an emergency? In the aftermath of 9/11, many experts are starting to entertain second thoughts, at least insofar as tall buildings go. Earlier this year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommended code changes to increase elevator use in high-rise emergencies. The recommendations were contained in NIST's report on its investigation of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapses. Next April, NIST will sponsor a conference to consider the benefits of elevator evacuations, including the advantages for persons with disabilities.
Depending on stairway evacuation alone can be risky, according to NIST fire prevention engineer, Richard Bukowski. "The time needed to descend undamaged and smoke-free stairs is about one floor per minute," he says. "If the fire is on the 60th floor, occupants on that floor or above will spend one hour or more trying to escape the building. Escape from such a height can be exhausting for those in the best shape, let alone those who are elderly or have lower stamina."
And Bukowski is talking about those who don't have disabilities. Using stairs to evacuate takes much longer and may even be impossible for persons who need wheelchairs, walkers or crutches, or who have respiratory or cardiac conditions or temporary impairments such as pregnancy or a sprained limb.
Use of elevators would enable people with disabilities to evacuate themselves without relying on others. Moreover, in modern high-rise commercial buildings elevator systems are designed to move a building's entire population in or out of the building in one hour or less. In emergencies, elevators could be programmed to move those with the longest distance to go first. Occupants of lower floors (without disabilities) would have a choice to use the stairs.
Source: "Emergency Egress Strategies for Buildings," Richard W. Bukowski, P.E., FSFPE, NIST Building & Fire Research Laboratory, http://www.fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/fire07/PDF/f07054.pdf