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Partners in safety include OSHA and insurance agents.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 people will die as a result of occupationally related injuries at work today. Another estimated 137 people will die as a result of occupationally induced illnesses including cancers and respiratory diseases on this same day. This latter number, derived from inferential metrics, is the best estimate produced in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and is probably underestimated; there is no consistent method to count these fatalities because it is difficult to provide a causal relationship after, in many cases, a profoundly long time between exposure, incubation, and the outcome of illness.

The good news is that occupationally related fatality rates have been declining in the United States for decades now. According to the US Department of Labor, in 1970, we could expect 38 worker deaths per day compared to the 12 we have now. The rates of worker injury and illnesses are also down from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 compared to 3.4 per 100 workers in 2011.

Today's US workforce is healthier, more informed, and arguably safer than any other time in US history. However, the rapid development of technology often times outpaces business's ability to "keep up" with the times and plan for the safety of the workforce. Public health agencies, scientists, and sheer experience continue to refine what is known about chemicals and occupational exposures in the environment, further refining protective methods and procedures designed to protect the workforce. The changing exposure limits, new OSHA regulation, and industry standards are almost too much for the business owner to keep up with at times, and that sentiment is heard often and loudly. The good news is, no one has to go it alone. The bad news is that the necessary partners in this endeavor may be the very people businesses are hesitant to deal with, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and insurance agents.

OSHA

OSHA is the federal agency tasked in the enforcement of the federal regulations affectionately known as 29 CFR 1910 (General Industry) and 1926 (Construction). This modest federal agency had a budget of a little over $535 million in 2013 and 2,200 inspectors, according to OSHA's website. While OSHA regulations are "the law of the land," and OSHA is charged with the enforcement of these safety regulations, the federal agency does have the ability to grant this authority to states. Alaska is one of the states that has taken on this responsibility. In order for states to sponsor their own programs, they must be at least as effective as the federal plans and have regulations that are at least as prudent as the federal regulations.

Alaska's OSHA (AKOSH) plan was initially approved on July 31, 1973, with subsequent and final approval on September 26, 1984. According to the Alaska State Plan webpage, AKOSH has incorporated the federal OSHA regulations by reference and are therefore identical with the following exceptions: Alaska has adopted some specific language dealing with petroleum refining and drilling production as well as providing specific long shoring details. However, the AKOSH does more than just administer to the regulations; they provide services in both the enforcement of regulations and the in the prevention of occupational injuries.

There are two divisions within the AKOSH system. According to Krystyna Markiewicz, chief of Consultation and Training for AKOSH, "the Enforcement Division [is] responsible for the field audits, compliance audits, and incident investigations in the field." She continues, "the Consultation and Training Division offers no cost training and consultative services to small to medium sized Alaskan businesses, especially targeting high hazard industries." The Consultation and Training Division acts on between three hundred and four hundred consultations with Alaska businesses each year and provides training to approximately two thousand personnel through their programs. There are approximately eleven enforcement officers in the state comprising five industrial hygienists and six safety specialists. The Consultation and Training Division has eleven consultants and one trainer who travel to businesses upon notification in order to identify and assist in the implementation of an OSHA compliant safety and health program.

In order to engage the AKOSH consultant services, companies must fill out a Consultation and Training Services request form. When filling out this document, there are options to choose from including full site/program assessments and limited assessments that may focus on specific subjects like fall protection. Other services provided by the AKOSH Consultation and Training Division include program authorship using "safety writer" software; industrial hygiene monitoring; training including OSHA specific courses (e.g., 10 hour construction); industry specific training (e.g., seafood); and audits and walkthroughs.

Interestingly enough, when a company is engaging the services of the Consultation and Training Division, they are exempt from scheduled inspections from the Enforcement division, home of the "OSHA Inspector." The two divisions are separate entities under the same roof, and they share a common mission: "to work in partnership with Alaskan employers and workers towards the elimination of workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths and to assist employers in complying with state and federal regulations relating to occupational safety and health," according to the AKOSH Strategic Plan for 2014-2018. However, they do not share information about their activities. It's kind of like the old saying, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," although in this case, what happens in Consultation and Training, stays in Consultation and Training.

The important thing is that if a company is struggling with their expectations or delivery of a safe working environment for their employees, they have a partner in the OSHA regulating office that can help them come up to compliance. They will not be penalized during the consultation and training process, but they don't necessarily get a free ride either. There is an expectation that corrective measures will be adopted within that company during the consultation process and that any life threatening issues are corrected immediately.

Alaska NIOSH

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a presence in Alaska through the Western States Division-Alaska, formerly known as the Alaska Pacific Office. Under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, this office is responsible for addressing the high rates of occupational injury and fatality in Alaska. NIOSH facilitates focused research programs and a collaborative effort between industry, government, and other safety interest groups. These collaborative efforts have led to industry wide improvements including increased effectiveness--and use--of personal floatation devices for fisherman and the deployment of target industry campaigns designed to subtly influence the adoption of important safety and health initiatives. One of the most successful campaigns targets the commercial fishing industry and is called "Live to be Salty." This multimedia campaign introduces Angus Iverson, a salty sea dog with a fast wit and short temper when it comes to shortcuts in safety and health on the job.

NIOSH has also had a strong presence in aviation safety and "continues to develop successful interventions while working with the aviation industry and governmental agencies," according to Mary O'Connor with the Aviation Safety Program. "NIOSH has worked with industry to develop interventions in helicopter logging in the 1990s and we are currently working on a pilot fatigue prevention training tool. We are committed to making improvements in aviation safety in Alaska," O'Connor says.

The "Live to be Salty" campaign (livetobesalty.org) and other collaborative efforts between business and industry are making a difference in Alaska. Since the opening of the Alaska NIOSH office in 1991, there has been a 63 percent decrease in occupational fatalities in Alaska. NIOSH, of course, cannot take all the credit for this dramatic decrease, but their role in the collaboration and bringing the message home to industry cannot be underestimated either.

Business and industry's role in this partnership can be enhanced through collaborative research and other opportunities.

Take a look at the NIOSH website (cdc.gov/niosh/contact/im-alaska.html) and get involved in the discussion. The people at NIOSH would love to hear about problems in the field, questions about their work, and any other occupationally related questions. The website is full of information and resources including research and injury prevention interventions, so check them out--use the some of the most cutting edge and successful safety interventions available and "be salty."

Workers' Comp

Companies have a wide range of insurance needs depending on what they own and what services they offer. One specific type of insurance that every company with employees must have is workers' compensation (workers' comp). Depending on the industry and number of employees, workers' comp insurance is often a very large annual expense that is begrudgingly paid as a "cost of doing business." But the comprehensive service doesn't necessarily have to end when the check is cashed; many workers' comp insurers provide additional services to their customers in the form of loss control. After all, it is in their best interest to keep injury rates down just as much as it is in the best interest of the company and the employees.

Typical loss control programs may offer a wide range of services focused on workplace injury and illness prevention. It is almost always much more expensive to treat an injury or illness than it is to prevent those injuries or illnesses. Some of the resources a loss control department might bring to bear in helping a business include:

* Hazard assessment: A "cold eyes" review from a loss control expert is an option. They can walk through the workplace and help identify issues that may be "lost in the background" or which need follow up. If there appears to be an opportunity for improvement, recommendations are made to the company.

* Industrial hygiene surveys: This may include evaluating exposures such as noise, welding fume, dust (total and respirable), ergonomic, vibration, and chemical exposures.

* Training: Various trainings can be offered that might include OSHA 10-Hour courses or smaller more specific topics provided during a tailgate meeting. There are typically online resources such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, and articles that may be downloaded.

* On-going consultative services: Depending on a variety of factors, a Loss Control consultant may establish a relationship with the insured company to establish a long term plan for injury prevention program improvement.

* Safety management audits: Beyond identifying specific hazards and controls, a safety management audit evaluates the process by which a safety program is managed. When completed, a report is generated to the insured company outlining opportunities for improvement.

* Accident investigation: Investigating why an injury or illness occurred and identifying the root cause is critical in preventing future injuries of the same type. This goes well beyond simply blaming the injured employee for "not paying attention."

* Loss analysis: An in-depth analysis of past injuries can identify trends and help focus injury prevention efforts.

The services listed above are not all-inclusive and may vary from carrier to carrier. The least expensive policies probably offer limited additional services while the more expensive (i.e., expansive) policies will offer more complete health and safety packages. It is important that each company with a workers' comp policy understand what services are available to them and to use those services to their fullest advantage.

Conclusion

Occupational injury, illness, and fatality continue to be a burden on modern society. Monumental effort has gone into the development of a suite of injury intervention methods used both in the field and at the desk. Despite these efforts, people continue to get hurt at work. New methods for injury control are constantly being developed and tried in the field. These efforts are not always easily accessible to the small business owner or small manufacturing plant. That is why it is important to leverage the existing resources out there: the people who develop, analyze, and study risk and occupational health on a daily basis. These people can be found at the federal level through OSHA and NIOSH and can even be as close as your insurance agent.

Brian McKay has a post graduate degree in Public Health and is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). McKay is the Director of Quality, Health, Safety, and the Environment for Fairweather, LLC.

Contact him at 907-270-6804 or brian.mckay@fairweather.com.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL SECTION: Building Alaska; Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Comment:Partners in safety include OSHA and insurance agents.(SPECIAL SECTION: Building Alaska)(Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Author:McKay, Brian
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jun 1, 2015
Words:2025
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