Statistics are interesting, depending on how you interpret and use them they can prove or disprove almost anything. As the old saying goes for evaluating data, garbage in – garbage out. Accident statistics can be classified in the US as type of injury and time away from work but this record keeping does not tell the whole story (Rappaport, 2002). So do not assume statistics are absolute.
Reports of accidents depend on the actual reporting and in poorer countries globally many reports of accidents of all types may not ever be reported to become part of the tabulated statistics. In classifying these accidents globally as to cause, generally they break down as deficient protection of the human during some equipment mechanical operation or by mechanical defect (inherent or not corrected), accidental/intentional human error or an Act of God (like a tsunami) (US Department of Labor, 2009).
Generalizations should be made: the more poverty-stricken the country and its government (cash strapped, money is simply not available for equipment repair, to buy safety supplies, maintain or enforce certain safety codes, no recourse to enforce safety codes, etc.), and the more un-educated the employee who come together in these countries there will be a tendency towards a higher rate of accidents and higher severity level of damage in these accidents.
In the US things are a bit better since OSHA was enacted back in1970 to protect employees and with this enactment OSHA created guidelines for the employer to provide protections for employees (Brown, 2001). Additionally OSHA in the US now requires employers to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses that have the effect of: death, loss of consciousness, medical treatment beyond basic first aid, the cumulative days away from the job, and any restricted work activity or related job transfer, all this data can be obtained easily when requested as in a investigation (DOL, 2010). For the United States, the OSHA law attempts to protect federal or private company employees (the human resources) from a variety of hazards including general unsafe and unsanitary conditions, noise, toxic chemicals, mechanical inefficiencies and temperature related stress (Mirer, 2007). Silverstein (2008) relates that accidents still continue to happen in certain employment field areas of “construction laborers, nurses’ aides, and farm workers”.
All the rules and regulations created by OSHA and followed at most business still do not protect the employee that does not pay attention or follow guidelines for safety. For example: certain guidelines mandate a set of parallel solid yellow lines as a barrier for a walkway but if the employee has his or her mind on something else they can step off the designated walkway area and into a hazardous situation (open construction pit, open use of cutting, welding, casting, etc.) or the same employee may intentionally decide to ignore the rules cutting across designated visual yellow barriers and put themselves at risk of harm. A construction worker may decide that they can get the work done faster if they unclip the safety harness that is protecting them. A nurse and nurses assistant may decide to save time and simply pull the patient up in bed without raising the bed up enough to protect their lower backs from major strain. A farm worker may decide to not wear a safety glove while cutting fruit off a tree as it slows their gathering down. Without subconscious and conscious subjective cooperation of the employee 100% of the time, workplace accidents will continue to happen no matter the level of business enforcement.
Companies view these health and safety rules as generally good as these rules do try to set standards for everyone’s’ protection. But they do add to the cost of doing business for the company from implementation, equipment purchase, training and diligent compliance. Sill the costs must be seen as a needed operational necessity to provide some reasonable protections for the business entity from the potential hazard of the larger picture of non-compliance, which if undertaken will eventually result in some accidents. The tendency in the US for a remedy for this non-compliance (not protecting the employee) is often through tort law when the employee needs recourse.
The balancing act between governmental rule makers, businesses and health insurers goes on. Every group wants their side to be dominant. There has been a growing tendency to widen safety rules and coverage to encompass more areas of protection including ergonomics as a factor for workplace accidents or injuries. The problem with the widening of protection into the less obviously dangerous areas covered is that these areas become more and more predominately the subjective responsibility of the employee to provide their cooperation as a factor to ensure ongoing safety. A company can only continue to educate, mandate, pay for and create a reasonably safe environment but somewhere in the mix of responsibility for some injury and accidents the employee has to be held accountable on their own actions (Rappaport, 2002). For example: because an employee decided to not set the height lever properly under their chair in their cubicle and for years had their chair a few inches too low to use the keyboard at the computer properly and chose that height for the chair despite being educated on the proper ergonomics by the company (the company gave lectures, physical examples and pamphlets out) damage happened to the employee’s wrists as tunnel carpal syndrome or to their back as lower back pain. Did the company have the responsibility to send another employee around and set chair height and maintain that chair height every day for that employee and all others?
Brown, M. (2001). Occupational (OSHA) and Environmental Hazards – Incidence & Severity rates. Retrieved from http://en.allexperts.com/q/Occupational-OSHA-Environmental-1417/Incidence-severity-rates.htm
DOL.(2010). Safety and Health Standards: Occupational Safety and Health recordkeeping. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/osha.htm#who
Mirer, F. (2007). Is OSHA Working for the Working People. Retrieved from http://www.defendingscience.org/newsroom/upload/Michaels_OSHA_Testimony.pdf
Rappaport, E. (2002). Ergonomics in the Workplace: Is It Time for an OSHA Standard? Retrieved from http://www.policyalmanac.org/economic/archive/crs_ergonomics.shtml
Silverstein, M. (2008). Getting Home Safe and Sound: Occupational Safety Health Administration at 38. Retrieved from http://www.defendinscience.org/newsroom/upload/Silverstein.pdf
US Department of Labor. (2009).Workplace Injuries and Illnesses 2009. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/osh_10212010.pdf