When it comes to workplace incidents, we tend to focus on what’s considered a ‘major’ incident like amputation and loss of life. But the truth is, even nonfatal occupational injuries can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life.
When I was a toddler, my mom was involved in a ‘minor’ workplace incident that continues to have a significant impact on her life. She was working alone in a secluded part of a warehouse for a large food manufacturer when her glove got caught in the machine she was using. Her hand was pulled in and the wheels crushed her finger to ¼ inch. The mechanic that came to her aid estimated it would take 4-6 hours to disassemble the machine (time she might not have), so instead, he rewired it – enabling the gears to move backwards and release her hand. While these critical decisions were being made around her, my mom was trying her best not to go into shock.
Safety Snapshot: Nonfatal Occupational Injuries
According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfatal occupational injuries are decreasing, which is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough. In 2015, there were 1.2 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses that required time away from work. And that’s just in the United States.
The median number of days away from work to recuperate after a nonfatal workplace injury have also decreased from 9 days in 2014 to 8 days in 2015. Robust return-to-work programs have ultimately helped to get employees back to work sooner rather than later, but nevertheless, the effects of these nonfatal or minor injuries can be long-lasting.
In my mom’s case, it took numerous surgeries, rehab and the will to fight to keep her fingers and hand. Ultimately, the surgeon was able to rebuild her fingers but one remains permanently disfigured and knuckleless. My mom was never able to braid my hair or put her hair in a ponytail. It took her a long time to hold a toothbrush, open a can and even getting dressed can be difficult because her grip has never been the same.
Changing Safety Culture
From my mom’s perspective, the company she worked at was always thinking about safety first; more so than others in the industry at the time (late ‘80s) and believes what happened that day was a freak accident. The company supported her throughout her recovery and never once placed the blame on her – a key element of an effective workplace health and safety program.
Afterwards, the company conducted a gap analysis, realized its safety shortcomings and to prevent future incidents from occurring, put guards on the machines in the warehouse. Even though it’s been almost 30 years since this happened to my mom, it’s frustrating that machine guarding continues to rank in the top 10 most cited OSHA violations, as recent as 2016.
We’ve come a long way since this happened to my mom, but unfortunately, preventable workplace incidents continue to happen every day. As health and safety champions, it’s important that we take a proactive approach to safety management and do everything in our power to reduce risk. When it comes to the well-being of our employees, we can’t afford to be reactive and wait for something to happen before we make a change.
I joined the eCompliance team in 2015 because I’m passionate about workplace safety and don’t want what happened to my mom (or worse) to happen to anyone else. Now I spend my days advising EHS professionals how to use safety management systems to improve processes, increase real-time visibility and create safer workplaces.