Teamwork Drives a Century of Workplace Safety Improvements
Workplace safety takes teamwork. This is true on two levels. First, everyone has a role to play in proactively maintaining a safe workplace; and second, unsafe actions by one person can endanger many others.
Modern mining, manufacturing, and refining facilities emphasize safety as a team effort and strive to create a strong workplace safety culture. A strong workplace safety culture involves every employee at the facility from the janitors to the senior managers, and everybody has a defined role to play in maintaining a safe workplace.
A century of workplace safety improvements
Workplace safety has improved dramatically in the United States over the last 100 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related deaths decreased from 61 per 100,000 workers in 1913 to 3.5 per 100,000 workers in 2011.
The rate of workplace injuries has also dropped significantly over the past century. Although injury statistics were not kept at the same standards we see today, the consensus is that annual workplace injuries requiring at least one day off the job numbered at least 12 out of 100 in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Injury rates came down similarly to workplace death rates for a few decades largely because of better technology and a greater focus on plant safety, but workplace injury rates did not decrease much in the 1950s and 60s despite continued declines in workplace fatalities. Passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health and led to a watershed of important worker-safety regulations, is widely credited as a major factor in the reduction of the U.S. workplace injury rate to just 3.5 per 100 in 2011.
Safety managers are typically are professionals who have been thoroughly trained in all aspects of workplace safety. Most safety managers have earned one or more professional certifications specific to the industry where they work.
The job of a safety manager is not to go around looking for safety problems and haranguing employees to always wear helmets and nonslip boots. The real job of a safety manager is to help create an open safety culture and to educate employees on how to make the safest choices on their own.
Safety committees consist of employees and managers who meet regularly to discuss safety issues. An active safety committee is an integral part of a workplace safety culture. A safety committee should have goals and performance expectations that are evaluated on at least an annual basis. In most cases, a safety committee is also responsible for establishing a regular training program that focuses on basic plant safety and any special safety issues that apply to the industry or the specific facility.