“An employee was installing a piece of sheet metal as part of a return air system. He was using a cordless screw gun to fasten the sheet metal in place. As he secured the piece to the floor, a screw penetrated a 120-volt nonmetallic-sheathed cable. This energized the sheet metal and electrocuted the employee.”
This was a fatality report from a 1994 accident, which is documented by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The 33-year-old mechanic became a statistic. The report doesn’t say if he had a wife or children, it just listed the accident and the result.
Each day, workers lose their lives on the job and many more are injured. In an April 28th statement citing OSHA’s 30th anniversary, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said, “Every day, 16 workers lose their lives in this country. And every hour, 650 workers experience an injury or illness on the job.
“Every time we hear of a worker who dies or an employer who is cited for violating an OSHA standard, we should ask, ‘What could we have done to prevent the problem in the first place?’” Saying that we can train our workers to work safely is certainly much easier said than done.
If the 33-year-old mechanic knew the dangers of electrocution before drilling, could the accident have been prevented? The answer is not a given. We don’t know what the mechanic was thinking about the day of the accident. Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe the drill slipped. Maybe he was looking at an outdated or incomplete drawing, or none of the above.
As business owners, you try your best to educate workers on the various hazards they may face on the job. But you always ask yourself, “Can I do more?” — especially in the wake of a workplace accident.
Sure, we can probably all do more. But short of accompanying workers to the jobsite and holding their hands, what more can you do?
There are many suggestions I can give, but space does not allow me to give them all. I would suggest that if a worker takes pride in his or her work, that is a huge step toward making their workplace safer. The true craftsperson is not only skilled at their profession, but is also well educated and respectful of all that could go wrong.
So here’s an idea. Play the devil’s advocate. Draw up a worst-case scenario for your workers. Tell them all that could possibly go wrong at a jobsite. Put it on a sheet of paper, laminate it, and put it in their truck or in their job folder. Perhaps your employee will think twice.
Here is a summary of another fatality:
“Employee hired to cut trenches in a concrete floor in preparation for future plumbing. He began using a rented 13-hp gasoline-fueled concrete cutter inside a room with limited ventilation, with the only fresh air exchange through a set of double doors.
“The building manager advised the employee to keep the doors open because the fumes were strong. Employee responded that he appreciated the manager’s concern but he knew what he was doing. Two hours later he was found slumped over the cutter and pronounced dead at the scene with a carboxyhemoglobin level of 691¼2% and a blood alcohol level of 0.30%.”
This employee must not have cared. Too bad. Sometimes everything you do goes for naught. But at least you have to try. If your workers take pride in their work and are reminded of its dangers, the battle is half won.
Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
Publication date: 06/11/2001