Any Good News, Mr. Safety Guy?

Jeremy Train, Corporate HSE Director | September 2, 2019

WARNING: This is NOT your father’s safety message

With Labor Day upon us again, you might find yourself pondering, “Just what is Labor Day really all about?” Simply put, it’s a national holiday celebrating the labor movement and contributions of the U.S. workers towards the development, growth, and prosperity of our country. There are few countries sharing equal growth and success with that of the U.S., and without our workplace safety practices, this would have been impossible to achieve. So, another question one might ask then is: “What has occupational safety really done for the worker or the industry in all of this?” My answer: An 82% greater chance of literally surviving work each day since modern Occupational Safety & Health.

I’m fully aware there might be responses to that follow-up question with a different take, such as “Not much aside from creating a pain in the neck with all the rules, training, and safety glasses I’ve got to wear now.” After all, as Americans, our grit and work ethic that built this country is matched only perhaps by our rebellious nature. It’s just in our blood ever since kicking the English monarchy to the curb, bolstered with period slogans like “Don’t tread on me”, and “Live free or die”.

So, in that same spirit it all but doesn’t matter when we’re informed on how to not die in a fire or break our faces, if it’s done in a way that makes us feel like we’re being told we have to do this, or we can’t do that. Where’s the fun or liberty in that? Especially when it seems like it slows us down. Well, “live free or die” can take on a whole new perspective when you think about it in this context now…

For the recipients of safety related messages, there’s often an underlying feeling that a real buzz-kill is coming along with it. To be fair now, it’s usually a logical part of the equation to demonstrate harmful causation that connects us to just why we should or shouldn’t do something. We paint a picture of what we know about people getting hurt through objective data – which in turn tells us what not to do and feels like bad news.

While bad news makes big headlines, it seems that in our day to day lives we don’t typically gravitate towards it, nor do we like to think about ourselves being in harm’s way. Why would I want to when I can google up a laugh from a beer-can-crushing-gone-wrong video or stream unicorns pooping rainbows to my heart’s content? Trust me when I say it’s a real challenge to find just the right funny emoji when you’re talking about amputations, after all…
So, is there ever any good news on the safety forefront then? Brace yourselves: hard to believe as it might be, a resounding “Hell yes!” is coming your way right now from one of the prophets of doom – along with some “all killer-no filler” stats to back it up.

Occupational Safety and Health is a relatively new industry compared to many. In the United States, it wasn’t until the OSH Act of 1970 created OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) in 1971 that the game was changed. In my best Forrest Gump voice: “just like that”, we had federal safety standards and most importantly – we began to understand what was hurting or killing us as workers.

THEN: In 1970 about 14,000 U.S. workers like you and me were being killed each year on the job. You had a reasonably good chance of getting hurt or killed when you signed up for a paycheck back in the day. But, with OSHA suddenly requiring employers to keep logs of worker injury and illness we had real data to act on and the light-bulbs started to pop up above heads everywhere. Over time, that information built new standards, which facilitated education and training that ultimately changed culture and the tides began turning.

NOW: It worked. By comparison – in 2017, even with a workforce DOUBLE in size, that number had shrunk to 5,147. My math tells me that basically worker fatalities have been reduced by about 82% in this period! If that’s not a high-fiving, chest-bumping, happy-dance moment then I don’t know what is.

THEN: In 1972 the rate of SERIOUS workplace injuries was at 11 per 100 workers. Allow me to further this stat with a bit of elaboration: that’s right after the new mandate and with far less methods of communication, follow-up, and reference compared to today, that number is certainly under-reported and quite likely is a very low representation. Either way – we’ll use it.

NOW: It worked. In 2017 the rate of SERIOUS workplace injuries was at 3.5 per 100 workers. We’re talking about two-thirds less of what it was then – another significant change in our favor. Don’t forget the dollar – with costs of serious workplace injuries in the U.S. being over $1 Billion a WEEK now, that would shoot up to about $3 Billion a week without these reductions.

There are the answers, which are not only good for the worker but present a win-win for American companies as well by managing fewer serious safety and health incidents that create production loss and significant additional expenses which affect the bottom line. As a proud American worker on this Labor Day, I’ll gladly take these wins.

Stay smart & stay safe!