A November press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that “Both the rate and the number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work decreased from 2006 to 2007 to 122 per 10,000 full-time workers, a decrease of 4% from 2006.”
While this most recent BLS data confirms a multiyear trend of declining workplace injuries, further investigation reveals drivers of commercial vehicles experience a lower year-over-year decline (e.g., 3%) and incur some of the highest incident rates. Also, median days away from work for injured commercial vehicle drivers is still twice that of private industry (14 vs. 7).
As noted in last month's column, we will review these findings, examine some of the problematic injury trends, and identify best practices to help you reduce or eliminate workplace injuries.
The most recent BLS data is extracted from a sampling of workplace injury logs required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. The data provides insight into three injury trend areas:
Nature of injury (strain or slip/trip/fall). Sprains, strains and muscle/tendon tears are the most common injury (41% of all incidents), followed by fractures, contusions and lacerations, which combined represent about 24% of incidents.
Event/exposure leading to injury (lifting). Falls from same level represent the most common injury types, followed by over-exertion from lifting/bending and transportation accidents.
Source of exposure (containers, vehicles or floors/walkways). Incident rates are highest when motor vehicles are the injury source, followed by floors/walkways and containers.
Traditionally, safety professionals place most of their emphasis on injury prevention. For example, this data suggests that much should be done in preventing over-exertion strains. Based on this, many prevention efforts would result in the development, communication, measurement and reinforcement of safe lifting techniques and/or safe techniques for hooking/unhooking trailers.
While these measures can be effective, I believe this data suggests we augment our efforts with another approach. That approach would focus first on raising driver awareness of scenarios that commonly result in injuries. Next, it would focus on the modification and/or elimination of such injury-producing scenarios.
Such an effort would begin with a horizon-to-horizon assessment of your operation. For example, you might utilize a team of drivers to identify their routine and not-so-routine work tasks. Next, rank these tasks as to their likelihood of producing common and/or severe workplace injuries. For example, you might rank a “driver performs an unassisted heavy container lift scenario” high if this is routinely encountered and has a history of producing injuries.
Then, identify your intervention plan. Some scenarios might be selected for an awareness campaign while others targeted for redesign and/or re-engineering.
Lastly, prioritize your interventions by determining which efforts will lead to the most significant reduction in workplace injuries.
You should begin this effort quickly. The BLS data tells us there are 67,000 injury incidents resulting in the loss of one or more days from work. In addition, 57% of these injury incidents result in 11 or more days away from work. Your work team could benefit greatly.
Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.