Category: Global OH&S Issues

“Just an Industrial Accident”

There have been two deadly workplace accidents in two weeks. 

  • A horrific explosion in West Texas that killed 14 and destroyed at least 40 homes. 
  • A building collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 275 and injured hundreds more.

In both cases, a workplace incident quickly became a community tragedy.

  • In West Texas – What may have been a small fire triggered a massive explosion – an explosion several times greater than the explosion in the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • In Bangladesh – An unsafe building has become a mass grave where family members are digging through the rubble searching for loved ones.

Unfortunately, worker safety is often viewed by the press as unimportant when compared to events that are labeled as terrorist attacks.  This was clearly evident last week.  One report, when comparing the West Texas Explosion to the Boston Marathon Bombing, characterized the explosion in West Texas as “just an industrial accident.”  No readily available villain so, therefore, the event is less important. 

deathYet, statistics show that workplace incidents are often much more deadly.  In addition, the effects don’t stop at the facility boundary.  Industrial accidents also impact families and our communities.

Workplace deaths are even more worthy of our attention because they are often preventable – if there is the public will to insist that they become so.

We will not be able to stop every terrorist attack without both a massive outlay of resources and even greater intrusions into areas that were previously considered private and “off limits” in a free society.  Yet, the causes of most significant workplace incidents can be identified and addressed.  What is often missing is a societal insistence that those who can prevent workplace accidents be required to do so rather than profiting from ignoring unsafe workplace conditions.

Both a change in perspective and improved enforcement of workplace standards are needed.

Society needs to stop viewing workplace accidents as simply an acceptable risk that workers are expected to take in order to get paid for their labors.  As John Howard put it – “Earning a day’s pay should not place anyone at risk of losing life or livelihood.”

In addition, international consensus standards are needed that establish clear, transparent and enforceable requirements that organizations must meet if they want to claim recognition for providing “safe workplaces.” 

ISO is proposing such a standard be developed in its New Work Item Proposal for an Occupational Health and Safety Management System standard (click here to read more about it).  Of course more will be needed to ensure worker safety but at least the development of an ISO standard can be an initial first step – if this initiative is approved.

 © ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2013)
April 26, 2013 | 0 Comments More

A Job Is a Dying Concept

Dr. John Howard, Director of NIOSH, gave the keynote presentation last Tuesday (June 19, 2012) at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference (AIHce).  In his talk, he focused on 7 trends that will define the future of occupational health and safety – demography, employment, discrimination, disability, governance, standards and professionalism.  In this blog post, I will focus on one – employment trends.

As Dr. Howard put it, “A job is a dying concept.”

He went on to elaborate – In prior generations, security was what defined employment; today, it is precariousness.  Work is increasingly contingent and less secure.  There is no promise of continuous employment – or, in a great many work situations, of even being considered an “employee.”

According to Dr. Howard, this employment trend has a significant impact on occupational health and safety. Within the current legal structures governing worker protection, non-employee workers are often unrecognized and unprotected.  Both workplace safety regulations and injury compensation schemes are based on one’s status as an employee. Yet, the risk of injury or death in the workplace is not related to a legalistic definition of employment – whether you are an “employee” rather than simply an individual laboring in the workplace.

Later in the week, Mike Wallace, from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), gave a presentation on the evolution of sustainability reporting and the need for new metrics for evaluating organizational performance related to occupational health and safety. 

He started his presentation with the following statistic – annually 2.3 million workers die across the world. It is clear that workplaces are not safe and worker protection is often missing.

He sent on to note that, in the past, safety professionals have “stayed on the sidelines” in defining OH&S metrics for measuring organizational performance – unlike their environmental counterparts. Creating comparable metrics is often viewed as “too complex” and “too time consuming.” 

Is creating OH&S metrics really more difficult than
creating metrics to address global climate change?

GRI is currently soliciting public comment on new OH&S metrics for inclusion in the GRI reporting scheme.  Unfortunately, to date, the metrics being used, as well as those being proposed, fail to take into account the employment trends highlighted in Dr. Howard’s presentation.  In particular, they continue to link OH&S performance metrics to “employee” protection NOT “worker” protection.

In my view, what is needed is new metrics.  Metrics that are specifically developed to promote worker protection - not the perpetuation of metrics based on definitions of employment that has little relevance to today’s economic realities.

© ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2012)
June 28, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Worker Health & Safety Principles

I have been spending time reviewing the draft of a new ISO document – Guide 82Guide for addressing sustainability in standards.  (For standards geeks, this document was recently circulated as Committee Draft 2 and is intended to be a guidance document for ISO standard writers.) 

In reviewing this document, I noted that one of the intents of this document is to list general principles of sustainability.  To accomplish this goal, the document lists principles associated with several topics from environmental labeling and sustainable buildings to risk management and social responsibility.  

In reviewing these lists of principles for other areas, I realized that I was not aware of a comparable list of worker health and safety principles.  As I discussed this with other OH&S professionals, they were not aware of any generally-recognized list of worker health and safety principles either.  

I thought about it and came up with the following list of seven principles (modeled after the list of Quality Principles set out in ISO 9000).

 Worker Health and Safety Principles

 1.       Health and Safety Focus

Worker health and well-being is an important organizational resource to be protected through the prevention of injury and ill health.

 2.       Leadership Commitment

Top management needs to provide the leadership and resources necessary for effective management of OH&S issues

 3.       Worker Engagement

Workers need to have the information, opportunities and accountability necessary for them to actively participate in ensuring their own safety

 4.       Factual Approach to Decision Making

Decisions and actions related to evaluating and controlling OH&S risks should, to the extent feasible, be based on the analysis of factual information

 5.       Prioritization of Controls

Hazards should be controlled using process, equipment and facility controls before administrative controls and personal protective equipment are utilized

 6.       Prevention Instead of Reaction

Establishing systematic processes to identify and address OH&S risks is more effective than waiting until after an incident has occurred to react

 7.        Supply Chain Accountability

Organizations need to act ethically when transferring OH&S risks to others in their supply chain

 What do you think?  Let me know by posting a comment to this blog post – or sending me an e-mail at tdunmire@enlar.com.

© ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2012)
April 5, 2012 | 2 Comments More

ANSI Z10, OHSAS 18001 & Sustainability

This week, in addition to attending the AIHCE in Portland, I will be participating in a meeting of the ANSI Z10 Committee.  We will be discussing the revision of Z10 that was undertaken last year and is scheduled to be completed later this year (Fall 2011).

ANSI Z10:2005 is the American National Standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.  As such, it is part of a large family of standards addressing this topic.  The dominate sibling in this family is, of course, OHSAS 18001:2007.  According to the 2009 Standards and Certificates Survey conducted by the OSHAS Project Group, over 50,000 organizations have obtained certification to OHSAS 18001.

The goal of this revision of Z10 is to continue to provide guidance helpful to organizations in the United States that want to implement an OH&S management system.  Another use of Z10 is as a reference document for OSHA’s initiative for development of a standard requiring that employers establish an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2 Initiative).  Finally, there is a desire to ensure that Z10 continues to have relevance to OH&S in the future.

One of the interesting inputs impacting this revision of Z10 is the increasing focus on sustainability initiatives and corporate sustainability reporting.  Many OH&S professionals have expressed concern about the lack of attention given to worker safety within the sustainability movement.  One of the initiatives ASSE and AIHA are working on together is the development of appropriate metrics for measuring OH&S performance for the next revision of the GRI sustainability reporting guidelines. 

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)
May 17, 2011 | 0 Comments More

A Contrast in Views

I was struck by the contrast between two news stories that came out in the last week reporting on occupational injuries and illnesses – one in the United States and one in India.

The first was a press release from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) in which the President of ASSE applauded the apparent drop in workplace injuries and illnesses recently reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  According to the preliminary BLS report, the overall rate of both fatal and non-fatal work injuries in the United States dropped in 2006.  Acccording to the BLS press release, there were 153 fatalities from expsoure to harmful substances or environments for all US workplaces in 2006.

The second was a news report from the Indian Express entitled “Ticket to Hell” that reported that 227 sanitary workers employed by the Pune Municipal Corporation died in just the last 30 months.  This news report goes on to ask: “[I]sn’t it incredible that an occupation as horrifying as cleaning the sewers of the city in the most primitive fashion possible should need a newspaper report to ensure something as basic as protective gear and health insurance for those who risk limb and lung every minute of their working life?”

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2007)

October 26, 2007 More

The Future of OH&S Auditing

Last week, I attended a meeting of The Auditing Roundtable in Philadelphia.  The keynote speaker was Glen Hiemstra – a Futurist.  In his presentation he focused on the 9 future trends and forces that he believes will impact environmental, health and safety audit programs. 

September 11, 2007 | 0 Comments More