News | January 5, 2007

ASSE President Identifies Top Workplace Safety Issues For 2007

Des Plaines, IL — Workplace fatalities and injuries are at an all time low, but we must not be complacent because one injury, one illness or one fatality is one too many, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Donald S. Jones Sr., P.E., CSP, of Plaquemine, LA said in reviewing 2006 and looking ahead to key issues facing the safety profession in 2007.

Although workplace fatalities are down, Jones noted, more than 5,700 people died from on-the-job injuries and millions more suffered from on-the-job illnesses in 2005. And transportation-related crashes continue to be the number one cause of on-the-job deaths.

"Work-related transportation deaths are a major concern. Many of our members develop and implement rigid commercial vehicle driver safety policies resulting in saved lives, increased use of seat belts and more," Jones said. "However, we cannot control other drivers and the condition of the roads and bridges. But we can and do help our employees by providing safety programs, a structured vehicle maintenance program and vehicles that offer the highest levels of occupant protection. But we all need to do more."

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) in 2004 there were a total of 5,703 workplace fatalities and out of those 2,460 were transportation-related, representing 43 percent of all workplace fatalities that year. These include all modes of travel. BTS statistics show that in 2004 there were 1,374 work-related highway deaths, 335 nonhighway deaths, 230 deaths involving aircraft, 377 pedestrians struck by a vehicle, 90 deaths involving a water vehicle, and 50 railway-related deaths.

"Overall, workplace injuries and illnesses in private industry declined for the third straight year in 2005," Jones said. "This continued improvement is certainly encouraging, but we cannot become complacent. ASSE and its members must keep our focus on creating the safest work environments possible, and we must press the mindset that one injury, one illness or one fatality is one too many."

In his January president's message to members Jones noted that the aging workforce, nanotechnology, a possible flu pandemic, disaster preparedness and response, and doctoral programs in safety are among key concerns for ASSE and its members. ASSE was founded in 1911 and represents more than 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professional members.

As for the aging workforce, Jones notes that employers and SH&E professionals must recognize and meet the needs of the changing workforce. As those born between 1946 and 1964 age so to does our workforce while the labor pool shrinks. It is estimated that by 2014 the 55-and-older age group will make up 21.2 percent of the workforce. To accommodate these changing dynamics in an ongoing effort to reduce fatality rates, businesses should design a safe workplace for the aging workers which could include improving illumination, adding color contrast; eliminate heavy lifts; design work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still allowing some cushioning; reduce static standing time; remove clutter from control panels and computer screens and use large video displays; reduce noise levels and much more.

Nanotechnologies is an area where more research is needed on the affects the new nanotechnologies has on workers and on consumers using products with nanotechnologies integrated. Once more is known, ASSE members and businesses can engineer the risk out and utilize the nanoscale materials in even more products helpful to consumers and the environment. It is estimated that products utilizing nanotechnology will exceed $1 trillion by 2015. "We must vigilantly monitor the results of this research and respond accordingly in order to best protect workers," Jones said.

ASSE continues to take a lead role in educating its members on how to manage a possible flu pandemic especially in a business setting. "Such an event would stress critical functions, business continuity and the health care industry," Jones said. "While it is impossible to predict if or when this may occur, we must take a lead role in educating employers and employees and our local communities about the risks, and in developing plans to help them manage and respond to the safety and health issues that will arise should a pandemic occur."

As for doctoral programs in safety, Jones noted that for the SH&E profession to continue to thrive, ASSE must work with groups such as NIOSH and affiliated organizations to find ways to encourage more individuals to achieve the highest level of safety education. "The safety community is faced with a retirement challenge among those who achieved Ph.D.s in the safety a few decades ago, such as the 1970s. With only one pure Ph.D. program in safety, the circumstances for the future of safety education may be dire," Jones said.

When it comes to contingency planning and response, Jones said that SH&E professionals will continue to seek ways to share their knowledge and lessons learned with employers and clients in order to help them develop, test and improve their response and recovery plans.