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Safety in the workplace?

How safe is the workplace? The more optimistic see the 80s as a decade of "flat" results, with the effects of safety improvements offset by better reporting. A closer look at Labor Department data, however, reveals steadily increasing industrial injury numbers as the safety improvements of the early '80s were apparently negated by cost and competitive pressures and a return of laxity and bad habits on the part of employer and employee alike. At least that's the implication of presently increasing injustrial-injury numbers.

In an attempt to offset this decline, the last Congressional session approved the assessing of much larger OSHA fines (although some increase was overdue, if for inflation reasons alone). In California, written safety procedures were recently mandated for all manufacturing, and must be in place by July 1. Other strict states have their own legislated OSHA standards , supplementing federal OSHA laws. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), assisted by its secretariats, has developed some very good standards-reflecting the interests and input from all affected. Many of these have been, or shortly will be, adopted by OSHA.

Meanwhile on the shop floor, safety engineers (in companies that can afford to dedicate people to this task) are playing the role of "safety conscience" for the organization, offering advice and counseling to the line organization. It's a delicate relationship-all their skills and labor cannot dilute in any way the responsibility of line managers for safety.

Key issues

For manufacturing managers today, safety in the workplace is a large and mixed bag of concerns. The questions to be answered include:

1. Is our equipment properly guarded and safe to operate?

2. Do we need a safety audit to pinpoint potential problems with OSHA or the workforce?

3. Are we up to date on the latest safety standards and guidelines?

4. Are our employees healthy and alert, or do we need to address wellness and substance-abuse issues?

5. Do we need specific safety training programs?

6. Are we properly handling on-the-job accidents?

7. Are environmental-health issues being addressed?

8. Are right-to-know concerns for employees and the community being correctly handled? There are 19 ANSI safety standards for machine tools (see ANSI Standards for Machine Tools). The latest, B11. 19-1990, covers the design, construction, care, and operation of safeguards, detailing the safeguards referenced in the other 18 standards.

All are in a continual process of revision, reaffirmation, or updating. The newest standard, B11.20, soon to be submitted to ANSI for public comment, is called Safety Requirements for Manufacturing Systems and Cells. It addresses the safety problems peculiar to the grouping of programmable machines and handling equipment into a centrally controlled system. This standard could be issued by the end of this year.

ANSI doesn't develop these standards from scratch. Since the late '60s, the National Machine Tool Builders Association (NMTBA) has acted as secretariat, operating under ANSI rules and procedures. There are 32 voting organizations in NMTBA's standard-setting bodies and parent voting committees, including organized labor. By representing all these interests, NMTBA can help produce the necessary compromises between safety and productivity to achieve practical guidelines. Then, ANSI's role is to provide the review vehicle to assure everyone involved-builder, user, and employee-that a due-process system has been followed, and all voices heard. Anyone who disagrees can appeal, and ANSI has the authority to hear that appeal and resolve the issue.

In most cases, these standards remain voluntary guidelines, not mandated by OSHA reference. (However, most are now required for DOD work.)

Role of the consultant

Reading these standards, one would assume that they are not asking a company to do anything that it shouldn't be doing anyway. But understanding is one thing; implementation is another. There are many "right" ways to guard a machine-i.e., technically acceptable, but which is best from a cost and productivity standpoint? For cost-effective solutions you may need the help of an expert. This can range from simply talking with a good safety-equipment supplier to hiring a consultant.

As a project director for AT Kearney Inc, Dr Phillip Williams deals with all aspects of health and safety for commercial clients and also works directly with federal OSHA. "Companies come to us when they have experienced a fatality, a specific problem, a period of unacceptable lost worktime, increased workman's compensation costs, or the passage of a new OSHA regulation. It's not always a reactive situation, but it often is."

Can a company install a new machine based on the appropriate ANSI standard and feel confident they have a safe installation? No," Williams replies, "the ANSI standards and the lock-out/tag-out standards, for example, do not follow each other verbatim. So, you can't merely rely on an older ANSI machine-tool standard that might need updating."

Most problems, he adds, are not with new equipment, but existing equipment. "For example, if the machine was not originally designed to be locked out, then to tag it out effectively you need to have a program in place with a procedure that can be tracked to guarantee proper tag-out procedures. That's a little more difficult than just locking it out."

Williams admits interpreting standards is no small task, because, as with any regulation, the wording can be cumbersome and interpretation difficult. "It all comes down to what the OSHA inspectors do when they come to your plant to enforce the OSHA act. There is some latitude. I was an OSHA inspector in the mid 70s, and I know there are some differences in interpretation, between area OSHA offices or even between inspectors in the same office."

Promise you productivity?

Can a consultant prove to a client that productivity is improved by addressing safety and such things as workplace ergonomics? "I doubt we can claim to improve productivity, but we can show that we are reducing costs. We've developed systematic safety and health programs for companies with multiple corporate locations that subsequently lowered their loss-work incidence rates, and obviously reduced related costs. Productivity is always an issue, but you want to err on the side of being safe as opposed to increasing productivity. The safest way often can be a more automated approach that actually increases productivity."

Are cost pressures causing people to compromise safety? "In the recessionary conditions in some industries, cutting costs in all areas is a concern, and safety could also be affected. Obviously, a company would not be removing something already in place, but it could be a question of whether existing controls will be maintained and whether new situations will be adequately addressed."

Ergo focus

The new focus is ergonomics: analyzing the design of workstations and trying to minimize repetitive motion. Federal OSHA is presently considering an ergonomics standard. Although this is only in the early stages, it could become a requirement sometime soon.

At the University of Michigan's Center for Ergonomics, Director Don Chaffin identifies several factors in the growing interest in ergonomics:

1. Rising costs. Mismatching people and their work environment is contributing to rising costs for workman's compensation, medical payments, absenteeism, and poor work performance.

2. Affirmative action. New laws require work conditions reasonably accessible to workers male or female, young or old.

3. Ergo-science. Ergonomics has been developed into a practical science ready for use by industry.

4. Labor sophistication. Labor groups are growing in ergonomic sophistication and promoting its use to improve the well-being of their members.

5. Increased concern. There's an increased general awareness of safety and concern not to harm fellow workers.

Concludes Chaffin, "Ergonomics is a disciplined study of what people are required to do on their jobs and how job conditions can be engineered for people. We're showing concern, not with abstract issues, but with conditions that cause real harm and costs. Employees are definitely affected by that." Meanwhile, employers should be anticipating ergonomic analysis becoming a safety requirement.

Oh, my aching back ! Back pain or injury is the cause for an estimated 40% of work absences. The average cost per injury to industry of this disability is $9,000 directly (twice that when indirect costs are included), and the annual US bill is estimated at $40 billion.

Raising worker consciousness of back biomechanics and ergonomics through a structured educational program is the solution offered by Visucom Inc, Redwood City, CA. The firm's Pro-Back management system involves both workers and managers in analyzing individual workplace situations and identifying where changes need to be made. Says Visucom's Eric Bounassisi, "With a better understanding of biomechanics and ergonomics, people can relate the working parts of their bodies with the stresses set up by improper workplace design. Then, they can be a big help in uncovering relatively easy fixes to reduce those stresses and identify areas where they need mechanical assistance. Often, the result is a double benefit in both safety and productivity improvement." (See box, Back-consciousness program nets quick improvement.)

Ben Rietze is president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, the oldest and largest US safety organization (about 25,000 members). We asked him if he felt the workplace was getting any safer? "The trend in accident statistics has been relatively flat-showing neither significant improvement or decline. There has been a lot of activity in standards making by both industry and Congress, and this will have positive effects. The recent increasing of civil penalties and the increasing number of criminal prosecutions will certainly get the attention of many more employers. OSHA now has the tools to increase some fines sevenfold. "That's a big stick! From the safety professional's viewpoint, we would hope that more effort will be spent on training, motivational programs, and behavior changes-the frontend things that help prevent accidents-rather than relying on OSHA enforcement to make these things happen."

Safety costs

Isn't funding safety programs difficult today? "Sometimes it is," Rietze replies, but an employer has to look at overall costs. In addition to the potential for fines and the cost of accidents, the cost of workman's compensation insurance has increased every year and is getting very expensive."

Some operating units of large companies are not even aware of actual costs, he points out. "Many companies don't have a good handle on those costs. They don't employ risk or safety managers, or buy this service. Many businesses are not analyzing this facet of their business or relating it to the bottom line."

ASSE's training efforts

ASSE's training programs include an annual professional-development conference, regional continuing-education conferences, and private seminars where the association works directly with companies to develop in-house safety programs. Local ASSE chapters sponsor educational and training programs for both members and other professionals in the community interested in safety.

A recent ASSE emphasis has been on governmental affairs, taking a more active part in reviewing and commenting on safety-related legislation. ASSE is the secretariat for a number of ANSI standards, and has placed members on a number of other standards committees.

Rietze sees good potential for ASSE membership growth: all those people with multiple responsibilities that include safety. He is also encouraged by the growing number of graduate and undergraduate safety and health programs, Up from only a few a decade ago.

Certification programs for professional safety engineers are handled by an organization separate from ASSE, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). (ASSE is one of the sponsors of BCSP, but does no certification itself.) "There is a need today for people with more credentials, and BCSP membership has grown significantly," Rietze points out.

OSHA enforcement gaps? Are there gaps in OSHA enforcement? Is OSHA able to get into the field sufficiently to enforce its regulations? "OSHA did get some increases in their budget," Rietze replies, "and will be adding some compliance officers. In their opinion, this will probably not be enough, but their efforts will certainly not be decreasing. "Obviously, a number of businesses will not be inspected because there are never enough compliance officers to do them all. However, there are other mechanisms that trigger an automatically OSHA response: when an employee files a complaint or a serious accident occurs. It all boils down to this: if you have problems, you are probably going to see OSHA, one way or another."

Is there any reason for the small-shop owner to be more lax today than at another time, i.e., to presume he wouldn't be inspected? "No. In fact, even though there is some allowance given to employers with only a few employees, small businesses now have the potential of receiving willful violation citations with penalties of up to $70,000. That would be very significant for a small-shop owner."

Back-consciousness program nets quick improvement

In 1988, Caterpillar initiated a program for training aH employees at its Aurora, IL, plant in reducing the risk of back injuries. Although a third of the workforce remains to be trained, positive results are showing up already. "By last fall, we saw our rate of back-injuries decrease by 27%," reports Dr M T Neu, plant medical director.

Nearly 2000 employees have been trained, toward a goal of 2800. This will include one third of all salaried and management people in the plant-planning processors, foreman, line supervisors, engineers, and higher management ranks. "We wanted to reach the people doing the job, supervising the job, or designing new jobs," Neu explains.

The program was provided by Visucom Productions Inc, Redwood City, CA. It consists of two 1-hr sessions for hourly people, and one 4-hr session for salaried and management people. Video training for each program was custom-tailored to Caterpillar's requirements, in some cases, condensed up to 50% from the original program suggested by Visucom. Visucom provided two instructors for a period of one week to train a Caterpillar instructor team.

Dr Neu acknowledges that these results are somewhat preliminary because all the training has yet to be completed. We have yet to see if the program will be self-sustaining," he notes. We plan to reinforce this program as time goes on because people tend to drift back to their old ways of doing things. We're clearly satisfied with the program-the payback numbers are there already."

What costs were incurred for redesigning processes or equipment? "Some equipment was purchased-a small lift for raising parts to the right height, for example-but nothing in terms of large volumes of modifications or expensive fixes. We've done a lot of simple things that have been relatively low cost. A lot of this comes from employee involvement. Once people perceive that you recognize these problems and win help correct them, they are happy to come forward and participate."

Although a lot of ergonomics seems like just good common sense, the key here is a formal, focused program in which everyone benefits. Since initiating this educational program, Caterpillar has hired a full-time ergonomics specialist to work on a variety of health and safety areas, including reducing back injuries and upper-extremity exposure.

Injuries recover from their depression

A check of Bureau of Labor Statistics industrial-injury data for a decade (the most recent available, 1979-1988) shows injury rates improving steadily, bottoming when the recession bottomed in 1983, and then reversing, climbing steadily, and, in some cases, reaching new highs for the decade.

Specifically, the injury rate per 100 employees by major industry classifications:

Fabricated Metal Products (SIC 3400)-From 19.4 in 79, it bottomed at 14.6 in 83, only to rise to 17.8 in 88.

Industrila and Commercial Machinery and Computer Equipment (SIC 3500)-From 14.2 in '79, it fell to 9.5 in'83 and rose to 11.4 in'88.

Electronic, Electrical Equipment, bitt not computers (SIC 3600)-From 8.1 in 79, it fell to 6.0 in 83 and rose to 7.0 in 88.

Transportation Equipment (SIC3700)-From 11.1 in '79, it fell to 8.0 in '83 and rose rapidly to a new high of 15.4 in '88.

More specifically for the more egregious industries:

Fabricated Structural Metal (SIC 3441)-From 26.8 in 79 to 21.1 in 83 to 24.8 in 88.

Iron and Steel Forgings (SIC 3462)-From 26.7 in'79 to 17.0 in '83 to 19.0 in 88.

Lawn and Garden Tractors and Equipment (SIC 3524)-From 22.4 in '79 to 13.7 in 83 to 17.5 in 88.

Autotmatic Vending Machines (SIC3581)-From 21.4 in '79 to 19.4 in '83 to 21.9 in'88.

Storage Batteries (SIC 3691)-From 17.9 in '79 to 7.9 in'85 to 13.4 in '88.

Motor Vehicles and Car Bodies (SIC 3711)-From 7.7 in '79 to 5.1 in '82 leaped to 22.4 in '88.

Truck and Bus Bodies (SIC 3713)-From 28.9 in '79 to 18.7 in '83 to 24.3 in 88.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes article on programs to reduce back injuries; safety and injuries in the machine tool industry
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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