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Death Determines the Cost of Safety

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Oct 25, 2010 1:10:29 AM

Carrie Bettinger - CSP, CHMM

the cost of safetyIt’s a windy, rainy day in northern New Jersey today and, as I drive through my town, I see the sanitation trucks are out to collect garbage and paper recyclables as early as they can before everything is soaked.  My town roads are basically paved horse trails so imagine narrow, winding roads with lots of sharp curves with a posted speed limit of 25 MPH.  So why is one of the garbage trucks going about 35MPH on one of these roads with a soaking wet worker standing on the truck’s rear platform clinging with a death grip to the side?  Is it that important to get the garbage in as fast as possible?  Why is the worker not in the truck if they are not making stops?  Does one of these workers have to die before this sanitation company takes steps to stop these stupid and unsafe acts?

As an experienced Safety Professional, I’m trained to recognize compliance-driven and non-compliance "best practice" occupational safety violations.  However, what does it take to change laws and habits that affect workers and citizens?  In our society and legal system it seems that, yes, someone (or many) has to tragically die before change and regulation are considered.

Let’s review some of our history:

1911:  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York resulted in 146 worker deaths due to locked escape routes leading to local then nationwide Life Safety Laws.

1900-1910:  In this decade, the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually leading to the creation of the Bureau of Mines -- the first code of federal regulations for mine safety – and, finally, in 1977, the Mine Safety and Health Act.

But let’s not think that safety negligence is ancient history. More recent developments illustrate the current gap in safety practices:

2008:  Georgia sugar plant combustible dust explosion caused 14 deaths leading to OSHA taking steps to create a combustible dust regulation that has not been completed.

2008:  NYC crane collapse plus three other crane collapses take the lives of 10 people within 6 months resulting in the new OSHA Construction Cranes and Derricks standard in 2010.

And what safety measures became a part of your life after the statistics became too grim to ignore?

Guardrails installed between eastbound and westbound lanes of a busy, high-speed highway after dozens of deaths from crossing the median?

Flashing traffic lights installed at dangerous intersections after repeated, similar car crashes and deaths?

Model building codes, like NYC Construction Codes, instituted and rigorously enforced after poor workmanship repeatedly resulted in fire, structural failures and death?

Child safety laws (like consumer protection laws triggering Fisher-Price to recently recall 10 million children’s products) governing furniture and toys after children have choked, strangled and been maimed?

The Price of Safety

When it comes to saving lives at work, on the road or at home, we are a reactive society.  We  do nothing until we have determined the cost of safety:  the value of life versus the cost of fixing the dangerous condition.  And, just how much is a life worth these days?  And who is going to pay the costs of training, new equipment, and enforcement of regulation or practices?  Ask your local insurance agent, government official or affected business; they figure out this value whenever a regulatory change is considered.  If they’re defining the dollar value per life, do you agree that your family's or friends’ lives are worth the price…or any price for that matter?  Are you willing to be one of the fatalities that get people to take action? 

How Can We Improve Safety

We need to change. From simple things like following the speed limit and adjusting it for weather conditions to making smart decisions when working around the house or shopping for the best product, safety starts with personal accountability.   At work or around town, take the time to report to our employers, local officials, and State or Federal OSHA when we see a situation or hazard that can cause an injury or death.  Or you could wait until someone dies.

Topics: OSHA, health and safety, General Industry H&S, General EHS, Construction H&S, Chemical Safety Board, Compliance, worker safety, Occupational Safety, Occupational Training, Lab Safety, Safety Training in Spanish, water safety

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