Some days it’s difficult to read the headlines on what’s happening in the world of occupational safety and health. Fatal injuries occur on the job every day, not to mention horrifying workplace accidents that maim, dismember, and disable employees. So why do we do it? Why do we publish articles about such incidents? And why do we, as professionals in this industry, read them?
It is our hope that the answer to those questions goes beyond merely shaming the businesses and business owners who put employees’ lives at risk. We hope that in reading about the failures in workplace safety, we can learn from them. We can adjust and improve our processes and procedures to continuously create safer workplaces.
In this article, we’ll share three recent workplace safety failures and discuss what we can learn from them to prevent these types of accidents and injuries from happening in the future.
Incident: Four workers were killed by lethal glass in November of last year. According to a press release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “The fatal incident occurred as one worker was overwhelmed when methyl mercaptan gas was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line. Two co-workers who came to her aid were also overcome. None of the three wore protective respirators. A fourth co-worker—the brother of one of the fallen men—attempted a rescue, but was unsuccessful. All four people died in the building.” The report goes on to say that methyl mercaptan is a colorless with a strong odor that is often used in pesticides, jet fuels, and plastics. When left exposed at dangerous levels, methyl mercaptan can produce death by respiratory paralysis.
What We Can Learn from It: After this incident, DuPont was cited for one repeat, nine serious, and one other than serious OSHA violations. The repeat violation was for not training employees on safety procedures that could have helped them save their own lives. Workers did not know how to use the building’s ventilation system and how to respond if the fans stopped working. This tragic incident is a reminder of how critical safety training is—not just initially but in an ongoing capacity to keep safety procedures always top of mind.
Company: Ashley Furniture Industries
Incident: The furniture giant has experienced more than 1,000 worker injuries—including multiple finger amputations—over the past three years. According to a recent article by EHS Today, “OSHA alleged the company didn’t train workers on safety procedures and hazards present when servicing machinery, and did not equip some of its machines with readily accessible emergency stop buttons.” Although, Ashley Furniture claims employees are trained to follow OSHA’s lockout/tagout procedures for minor equipment servicing, the numbers clearly tell a different story.
What We Can Learn from It: Whether or not Ashley Furniture trained employees on how to properly service equipment is up for debate. But the number of workplace injuries is not. This case reminds us that it’s not only important to emphasize how to do something safely, but also how easily a serious injury can occur. As the EHS article states, “When a series of minor machine accidents occur, safety managers should re-access safety training and hazard recognition.”
Company: Lloyd Industries Inc.
Incident: OSHA inspectors have found dozens of serious violations at Lloyd Industries Inc. over the past 15 years. Many of these violations have resulted in severe injuries, ranging from lacerations to crushed, dislocated, and amputated fingers. According to a blog post by the U.S. Department of Labor, “A 21-year-old worker lost three fingers when the die on a press brake machine came down on his right hand. The machine he was working on didn’t have safety guards, and it hadn’t been working properly before the incident. What’s worse, the company knew the machine didn’t have the required safety guards to protect workers from injuries. In a previous inspection, owner William Lloyd had complained to OSHA inspectors that machine guards (which are required to protect workers from dangerous moving parts) slowed production.”
What We Can Learn from It: Workers’ safety comes first—always. With the technology available today, safety precautions and personal protective equipment (PPE) are not likely to impede on-the-job efficiency or hinder productivity. But even in the case that a safety guard does in fact slow production, this must be a sacrifice employers are willing to make in order to keep workers safe. There are no excuses when it comes to risking injury and endangering lives.
The overall trend in workplace safety statistics demonstrates that incidents are on the decline. But we know that even one unnecessary workplace accident or one preventable workplace fatality is too many. It is critical that we constantly assess our safety successes and failings to determine what we can do differently and help ensure that our own workplaces don’t become the examples of what not to do. From investing in appropriate PPE and safety equipment to providing ongoing training, safety efforts make a difference, protect workers, and save lives.