OHS Infraction Statistics – A plethora of citations
Every year a compilation of statistics comes across my computer screen. Mostly from the United States. Probably because they have more industry and more people and just more – period. This year is no exception. Although not final, the top 10 are frightening because they are preventable. Both in the US and here in our own backyard.
I have linked to this list from Fred Hosier here for you to see the unofficial numbers for the top 10 OSHA violations.
I am in Alberta, times are tough, even tougher than the 80’s with 20% mortgage rates. This time it is rampant unemployment. As business struggles to continue shortcuts are made and blind eyes are turned because the rent and wages must be paid. I hear it all the time “Why do they need safety refresher training? Nothing new about driving that forklift for the past 20 yrs. plus we don’t have the money to train, tell them to be more careful.”
So, why is the list of citations relevant to Alberta?
We are living and working in an emotionally charged province.It has been proven that as humans we do not always think clearly when our emotions are inflamed. The list cites for example broken ladder usage. I agree the ladders should not be in the workplace if they are broken, but where is the workers thinking process? (#7 on the list)
Cash strapped and minimal margin quoting.
Workers, supervisors and managers are being asked to do more with less. Pressure often follows because they are not taught how to properly cut costs without compromising safety, integrity and reputation. Again, effective training comes into question which inevitably leads to a conversation regarding costs and limited resources.
Workers rely on a paycheque to maintain their personal safety and that of their family. Maslow talked about the hierarchy of needs and never before has a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness permeated our province. Mental Health has been prominently displayed within the media of late. Those who are working may feel helpless that others are not working and may be suffering, and for those who aren’t working the hopelessness seeps in and diminishes character, motivation and destroys relationships. Workers who have their livelihood jeopardized enter preservation mode. They don’t mean to become self absorbed, their world has just become a great deal smaller and those things they used to take for granted are no longer stable. Their focus has shifted, their minds are often occupied with survival and not with the task at hand.
Our OHS system is similar to OSHA, expectations the citation percentages will be similar exist.
Alberta has a diverse industry background, oil & gas may be the largest, but certainly isn’t the only. The Canadian economy mirrors and is very much aligned with the US economy. It therefore only makes sense we will also experience similar patterns of OHS infractions. The difference may be in the enforcement – Alberta, in my humble opinion, doesn’t have enough enforcers to effectively inspect worksites and cite infractions.
Safety professionals who once worked hard from within an organization to mitigate risk and teach employees the merits of safe work have been laid off, their duties often falling to administration people who remain. The requirement for Certification lies mainly in the documentation – which is the domain of administration. Supervisors and foreman assume the hands-on duties, generating the required paperwork, chairing committees, presenting toolbox safety meetings and completing corrective actions. The criteria for completing an investigation has changed – not by industry standards, but internal standards. If there isn’t a loss there isn’t an investigation, and unless it is a large loss the investigation is merely a formality, corrective actions are now mere conversations directing an employee to follow the rules or procedures.
The way to a safer work environment may not be in the citations, rather in the safety and security of our workers. By making sure job safety is their responsibility, showing respect for the people and equipment we work with and the product we produce, and empowering the communities to train its workers of all ages to care for themselves first.
Citations can point out the infractions and the consistently poor performers, but does it truly address the issue of safe work environments? A quote from my favorite comedian, John Pinette, sums it up for me – “I say Nay Nay”