How High-Impact Safety Consulting Works: An Example

Recently one of my clients related how difficult it had been to understand how really top-notch workplace safety consulting actually works, and what sort of things take place as part of the consulting project. Prompted by his suggestion, I will be sharing some additional examples of real-world applications from my experience improving the safety and risk control of various kinds of organizations.

Apartment Complex

High-rise apartments (not from the company mentioned in this article)

Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention for Multi-Unit Housing
The subject company was a property management firm with nearly 3000 apartment units at 14 locations along the West Coast. These were mostly upper-middle tier units, with some older locations but most less than 10 years old. Individual apartment complex size ranged from a few small properties with less than 30 units to a significant number of larger properties with 200-400 units per location. The particular issue that I was brought in to address was slip, trip, and fall prevention. This is an account of how we worked together to make a huge impact on an important issue.

Getting A Sense Of The Issue
Slip and Trip incidents were an issue that had come to light when the history of liability claims at the properties was examined. Falls or body reaction injuries related to slips and trips were found to account for over 40% of the claims count and an even greater share of claims costs across the board. Initial loss analysis showed that these numbers were trending fairly even from year to year, and both their risk manager and their insurance broker became committed to getting that number down. Slip and trip incidents were found to have occurred at 9 of the 14 locations, and several of those 9 locations experiencing multiple incidents. Post-accident investigation reports (conducted by site management) were available for most of the incidents.

Determining Objectives And Approach
After we discussed the value to the company of a project to focus on understanding and reducing slip, trip, and fall exposures, an approach was determined. As I relate the basic project steps that were set and followed, please keep in mind that the best group of project steps will vary from situation to situation, and that outcomes matter much more than project steps. Nonetheless, a glimpse of some representative steps will be useful for many facing similar issues as they decide on a course of action.

Pre-Planning
The pre-planning phase was centered on understanding the issue and the internal and external resources available to address it. Key parts of this phase included:
– Meetings with the risk manager and operations executives to understand not only their perspective of the issue, but also get a sense of the company’s organization and management structure. Further discussions centered on corporate vision for safety, safety culture, and safety climate present.
– Meetings with the insurance broker and carriers (note that there were multiple liability carriers involved due to the ownership segmentation and management structure of the company) to discuss experience history and approaches to date, as well as to get a sense of what claims and investigatory information was available.

Data Analysis And Research
The following information was complied by the client and their insurance broker and carriers:
– Loss data (analyzed and examined on an individual case level)
– Accident investigation results
– Facility diagrams, blueprints, and construction specification information
– Monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance procedures and records

Site Visits And Field Work
A series of site visits were conducted, covering about about two thirds of the properties. The visits included:
– Visiting all sites that had experienced incidents
– Meeting with site management and maintenance personnel
– Special examination of specific accident sites
Dimensional measurement of walkways and stairs
Lighting level measurement and lighting surveys
– Slip resistance measurement (Using methods that provide useful results under both wet and dry conditions)
– Photographs of key walkways

Engineering Approaches
Consideration of which hazards and potential hazards may benefit from engineering approaches, and suggested priority of approaches was a key part of corrective actions.  The engineering approaches selected for these properties ended up centering on the following items:
– Lighting improvements
– Walkway surface texturing
– Walkway coatings and finishes for slip resistance
– Concrete grinding for changes in level
– Improving drainage
– Improving railings

Puddle

Water accumulation is an important area to consider for slip and fall prevention

Warnings
Planning for what additional markings and warnings would be beneficial was done. One particular group of markings that were identified as important to upgrade was the demarcation of stair nosings. Ramp edge and perimeter demarcation was also addressed.

Code Compliance
The previous point highlights how that optimum risk control is not just about code compliance, but about pursuing the best measures possible to effectively control risks. The warning measures already in place at most locations were sufficient to meet code requirements, but needed enhancement for risk control. Sometimes code compliance is more than enough  to achieve a reasonably safe walkway, but sometimes measures beyond that are needed, based on evaluation of the particular situation.

Further Intervention
The above measures were the bulk of the intervention activity, but other areas were addressed as well. Some of those areas included:
– Maintenance practices
– Cleaning equipment, supplies, methods, and practices
– Maintenance work order procedures
– Means of monitoring areas for hazardous conditions and issues
– Accident follow-up procedures
– Means of blocking and barricading hazardous areas
– Rain mat use
– Staff and management training
– Documentation

Putting It All Together
As you can see, this was a more complex endeavor than just doing a quick walk-through and making a few recommendations. Yet even in the midst of some detailed project steps, the most important factors for the success of this project were in teamwork across several positions and functions, and good follow-up and adjustment in progress. The results of this effort were dramatic – the numbers and costs for slip, trip, and fall injuries went down dramatically, and remained down after 18 months of follow-up. This is a great example of how some endeavors seem simple, but are not easy. With a strong partnership between consultant and client, and good follow-up, great gains can be made.

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