In recognition of Workers’ Memorial Day last month, the National Safety Council has drawn attention to six areas of safety concern for U.S. employees.
“Workers’ Memorial Day is a time to remember those who lost their lives on the job, to reflect on lessons learned and to bolster our commitment to worker safety,” said Mark P. Vergnano, chairman of the National Safety Council Board and president and CEO of The Chemours Company. “We believe every injury is preventable, and by drawing attention to these critical areas we can improve employee safety, while remembering those we have lost.”
While worker safety should be a top priority for all employers, statistics show that certain populations of workers – or workers in certain situations – are more prone to become injured or die on the job. Fatal work injuries reached 5,190 in 2016, the third consecutive annual increase.
“Workers’ safety has been one of the IBEW’s and the labor movement’s top goals since our very beginning,” said International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Workers’ Memorial Day honors those who have lost their lives on the job and inspires us to continue to fight for safer working conditions for every employee.”
Driving on the job: The most common fatal event for workers in 2016 was death involving a transportation-related incident. Those deaths totaled 2,083, up from 2,054 the year prior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers have a significant role in reducing vehicle crashes. Through workplace policies and education, employers can help protect their workforce, protect their organizations and, in turn, protect employees’ families and communities. The National Safety Council offers a free Safe Driving Kit, and employers can also join the Road to Zero coalition to help end fatalities on U.S. roadways.
Older workers: Deaths among workers age 55 and older totaled 1,848 in 2016, a 9.9% increase from 2015. Baby boomers are aging and often remain in the workforce longer, which may be contributing to the rise in deaths for older workers. Workplace injuries suffered by people in this category also can be more serious due to age. Employers should be cognizant of the potential risks to older employees and take appropriate measures to address them.
Contract/temporary workers: Of the 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2016, 856 were suffered by contract workers. Contract or temporary workers can often perform higher-risk jobs at work sites, at times with little to no management supervision. Employers can help protect contract or temporary workers by including a formal contractor management program in their overall health and safety plan.
Falls: Fall, slip and trip deaths totaled 849 in 2016 – an increase of 6% from 2015 – and men are mostly at risk. A worker doesn’t have to fall from a high level to suffer fatal injuries. Whether working from a ladder, roof or scaffolding, supervisors should first determine whether working from a height is absolutely necessary. If so, it’s important to plan ahead, assess the risk and use the right equipment.
Workplace violence: Homicides in the workplace increased 19.9% in 2016 from 2015, now totaling 500 deaths. Managers and safety professionals at every workplace should develop a policy on violence that includes employee training, creating an emergency action plan, conducting mock training exercises with local law enforcement and adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.
Drugs and alcohol: Overdoses from non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased to 217 in 2016, a 32% increase from 2015. Employers should have a clear, written policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace, and they should insist on conservative prescribing guidelines for pain management from all participating providers in their medical, workers’ compensation and occupational health programs. In addition, employers should consider employee assistance programs, as well as rehire policies for individuals who have gone through treatment.