Code Compliance vs. Risk Reduction 

Meeting Code

In the safety and risk field, something you hear often is “It met code so it’s fine, right?” Implying that building codes are sufficient by themselves to determine whether a condition is reasonably safe. Codes are most certainly important and useful, but when evaluating risks you must be careful to look beyond codes to broader risk analysis principles. 
An Example

The example above is a railing at the new recreation center in our town. The issue at hand something known as “ladder effect” where horizontal elements of the guard rail present facilitated climbing for young children. This is something that was previously part of model building codes in the U.S. (The base documents that local building codes are based on.) These requirements were phased out of building codes several years ago. The rationale was given to provide more flexibility for architects and designers to create more varied buildings, and support for this was offered in the negligible reduction in emergency room visits related to this issue during a trial period where the regulation was removed. 

They removed the requirements, aren’t we fine?

There are several concerns with this.

 First, nothing in the code or supporting materials suggest that this design is safe for all applications, there is now just more responsibility on the architect or building managers parts to decide when to employ different types of handrails.  

Secondly using emergency room data was a very limited way to support this change,  as the number of railings already existing and the relative number different configurations installed didn’t change much during the relatively bread period examined. When the regulation was dropped many many facilities had compliant railings under the old standard and it was very hard to discern how different the environment really was when it came to handrail composition.

What to Do

There are other elements to this issue but I wanted to focus on the general concern of code compliance not equaling safety per se. The location depicted is the second level of a recreation center and the railing protected area adjacent to a toddler and small children play area. During the time I was there with my daughter I noticed many many children with various levels of supervision in and around that area. And the location and use of that area indicates that a handrail guard rail without climb ability would be a better choice.

We can’t remove every risk from the world we can’t remove every hazard that we and our children face but we do need to have a prudent approach to figuring out what risks are excessive and what risks are unnecessary. Code compliance is one factor to consider when determining relative safety, is should not be the only factor.

What is Loss Control?

I had a surprising discussion the other day with the COO of a fairly large grocery company about risk, safety, and insurance issues. His company has sizable exposures in the areas of property, liability, and workers’ compensation, and he has policies with several insurance carriers totaling over 7 figures in premiums.

Misconceptions from bad to worse
What was surprising about the discussion was how well versed he was in the costs of his policies, and the claims and administration related to those claims, but what a limited idea he had about the concept and function of loss control related to his policies. What’s even worse about this situation is that a sizable portion of the commercial insurance community shares the same mistaken idea. What is the mistaken idea?

The idea in question
The mistaken idea in question was that “Loss Control” meant “Inspections.” And by inspections, it meant some sort of non-participatory process where an inspector would briefly visit a location, collect some information, make some observations and perhaps take some measurements, and then be gone. Some group of recommendations might appear a month or two later with a little bit of written explanation and not much more.

I asked the CEO if that’s what his idea of loss control was, and he paused and said that was pretty much it from his experience. His stores are nicely organized and maintained, and very well-run overall. He recieves very few recommendations overall.

Engagement determines impact
The issue here is that even though inspections are often an integral part of loss control, and certainly the most visible part for most smaller accounts, inspections are more of an oversight tool (making sure that the insured company isn’t doing anything that will put them at too great of a risk for losses beyond what their business type would indicate) than an improvement tool (helping attain better performance.) The challenge is engaging with business and property owners and operators to help them improve their performance and better their condition.

So what is it really?
If loss control (or risk control as it is also called)isn’t just inspections, what is it then? Here’s a start. Loss control requires two dimensions: The first dimension is the active engagement of insured entities to understand the hazards that they are exposed to, the controls currently in place, the loss experience they have had over time, and their approach to managing and guiding safety. The Second dimension is working together with those insured entities to improve their performance in a collaborative way. That second dimension is often absent.

The challenge
The biggest challenge toward that goal is that every organization is different and needs help in different ways. Some companies have well-developed safety management and only need targeted collaboration on certain key issues; others don’t have a clue of where to start and need more help than may be included with the service level set for their policies. Inspections will always be a part of the picture, and perhaps the most visible one in many cases, but loss control professionals and leaders need to remember and convey the bigger picture.

Considering Vehicle/Storefront Crash Risks

Storefront Safety: Is It On Your Radar?

Last month I was working with a client in Southern California. We broke for lunch and I drove a couple of miles to a bakery/cafe restaurant that is a frequent spot for me when I’m on the road to eat and catch up on some e-mail. Just a few days later, I was surprised to see as I read the news that a jewelry store right across the street had been crashed into by a vehicle. And it wasn’t just a couple of feet into the storefront – the driver ended up some 50 feet into the store. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but it would be very easy to have the same crash with multiple serious injuries (or worse) if it had happened at a different time or into a different store.

Vehicle-into-building crashes have occurred ever since cars came into wide use a century ago. The Texas A&M University Transportation Institute did some research on the phenomenon several months ago and collected a variety of interesting data.

Before I share a few of their findings with you, I’d like you to take a brief survey to gauge perceptions of this issue. It’s just six questions and will only take a minute.

Click on this link to take the survey: Storefront Crashes Survey

Thanks for taking the survey. The issue of storefront crashes may have escaped wide attention in much of the safety and risk control field, but there is reason to look further. Some data, analysis, and consensus standards activity on the topic will provide a good starting point.

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OSHA Releases Most-Cited Citations Year-to-Date


Navigators use the stars and other means to chart their course.

Information for Navigation

Just as seafarers navigate with a combination of information from the sun, stars, landmarks, magnetic fields, satellites, and other sources, safety and risk professionals should use a good breadth of the pertinent information at their disposal to best understand and manage the risks their organizations face.

Top OSHA Violations

Last Week, at the National Safety Council‘s 2013 National Safety Congress in Chicago, Federal OSHA released the most-cited workplace safety standards for the current year to date. Not surprisingly, fall protection, hazard communication, and scaffolding violations topped the list.  Some cited areas also have a high number of associated injuries, such as Fall protection, where serious injury totals across many industries have also been high over the years.

Why This is Important

Safety professionals, risk managers, and anyone with responsibilities for safety in the workplace should familiarize themselves with this list. Not only is it useful to know the sort of things that OSHA looks for, it is also very instructive to understand what some of the most common workplace safety issues are across industries. Naturally state OSHA plans have differing lists (and some, such as California, have a differently organized and labeled set of state standards as well). It’s also very important to keep in mind that  any drill-down to specific industries will reveal vast differences as well. Nonetheless, this is a good starting point. Which of the following areas represent exposures at your workplace?

9/2013 YTD Federal OSHA Most Cited Workplace Safety Standards

Rank CFR Standard Category Total Violations
1. 1926.501 Fall Protection 8,250
2. 1910.1200 Hazard Communication 6,150
3. 1926.451 Scaffolding 5,400
4. 1910.134 Respiratory Protection 3,900
5. 1910.305 Electrical, Wiring Methods 3,450
6. 1910.178 Powered Industrial Trucks 3,350
7. 1926.1053 Ladders 3,300
8. 1910.147 Lockout/Tagout 3,250
9. 1910.303 Electrical, General Requirements 2,750
10. 1910.212 Machine Guarding 2,700
Note: These are partial year preliminary figures as of 9/13/2013. Totals are rounded to the nearest 50. Source: US Federal OSHA Information System Portal

Retail Industry Safety: Who Needs a Safety Program at All?

“We’re better off without a safety program.”

…Not What A Safety Professional Wants to Hear

The words hung in the air after he said them. Not the best thing to hear when you are the architect and optimizer of safety programs, brought in to discuss just that. Yet the executive did have a point. He had been in senior management and executive positions for in a number of retail companies for years, and he was accustomed to safety programs for retail stores as mostly low-value with more formality than substance. Legitimate as his concerns might have been, though, they really speak to how well designed and implemented a retail safety program needs to be, not whether you need a program at all.


A specialty grocery retailer (not related to the company mentioned in this article)

Setting the Stage
I was meeting with the vice president of loss prevention of a large specialty retailer just over two years ago. The meeting included representatives from their insurance broker, their workers’ compensation insurance carrier, their liability insurance carrier, and their claims administrators.

Proposing A Safety Program

I’d been invited to this meeting by their workers’ compensation insurance carrier because I’d worked with one of the comp carrier’s other retail clients to develop an overall workplace safety, health, environmental, and guest safety program.  After implementation they experienced excellent results in both incident frequency and severity terms, and the carrier was hoping that this retailer would be open initiating a similar program. As they’d grown to several hundred locations and close to one billion dollars in sales, much of what had worked for them when they were a much smaller organization was not necessarily still optimal for their larger (and growing) operation.

Do They Care?

The Vice President’s statement about not needing a program was not proof that he didn’t care about safety – it was more of a statement to how he viewed the formalized safety programs that he’d been acquainted with in the past. To look at things in a little more detail, this retailer wasn’t ignoring workplace safety and health or guest safety entirely – it just was structured as a marginal endeavor completely handled by groups that had other responsibilities.  Basic compliance was being handled by a combination of efforts from facilities, operations, and human resources internally, and the insurance carriers externally.

Safety Efforts Without A Program

We examined the various things that they were doing related to safety. There were quite a few, across divisional lines. For example:
– The facilities and architecture department ensured that their stores met building and fire codes when they were constructed.
– The facilities group would prepare and post emergency evaluation maps for each facility with exit routes and emergency assembly areas.
– Human resources maintained a section on safety and emergency preparedness in the employee handbook and new employee orientation.
– Human resources maintained the procedures and forms for reporting workplace injuries that require medical treatment.
– Operations used a daily manager’s “four corners” guide which instructed store-level management to circulate through the stores and make sure that everything was in good order and well-presented.
– Operations conducted regular pre-shift meetings in the stores, which were mostly focused on sales and presentation issues but occasionally touched on safety-related items to at least some degree, such as crime prevention.
– Operations maintained a “blackout kit” for each location, which included flash lights, batteries, and chemical glow sticks.
– The property insurance carrier conducted inspections of representative locations (perhaps 5% of all locations) once per year, focusing on fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, material storage, and exits.

How Well Does that Work?

So that is something, for sure. Aside from those specific activities, they also had an overall brand reputation as a company that cared greatly about a well-organized, well-thought-out, carefully presented, total experience for their customers. No casual observer would suggest that they ran a dangerous operation, or didn’t care about the safety of their employees and customers. Yet for any safety or risk professional observing their arrangement, many issues exist with this sort of approach, and much opportunity remains for overall organizational benefits from a well-designed and implemented retail safety program.

High-end retail

High-end retail: Low risk?

The Challenge of Low Risk Environments

There is ample room for discussion about whether his particular company would be most accurately described as a low or moderate risk operation, but suffice it to say that the perception was that the risk was not significant. Of course, if you looked at their historical workers’ compensation and liability claims numbers, you would see that though they had never experienced a headline-grabbing catastrophe, there were plenty of claims that had significant costs, and even some clear trends related to type of injury and circumstances. At the same time, one retail chain with just over 30 locations experiencing a dozen carpal tunnel claims with average total incurred costs over $40,000 each, and over 100 days of lost time average per case, are a very significant issue. Place that in context with the typical retail employee and manager perception that workplace safety “is not a major issue” and you’ll see the difficulty of putting due attention to safety in many retail organizations.

Preconceived Notions

The VP maintained that any sort of focused safety program would not be worthwhile for them, citing the following reasons:

“This isn’t a hazardous environment.”

“Our people have common sense, and we hire good managers who can figure things out pretty well as they go.”

“We don’t have that many accidents”

“Our accident costs are not high, and the cost to implement a safety program would probably be higher.”

…and perhaps most notably:

“We do safety, already, as part of all the other things we do.”

Satisfactory or Self-Satisfied?

Each of those statements from the VP has some level of truth and applicability to it, but each statement also shows some level of misconception or misunderstanding about a prudent approach to hazard risk in a retail operation. Some of what works wonderfully in a small operation just does not scale when you have hundreds of locations, and thousands of employees.

The Rest of The Picture

Yes, the retailer in question was doing a number of things for the safety of their operation. Consider, though, just some of the things that were not covered to any significant degree by their approach:
– Individual and managerial responsibilities to create a safe environment, and specific examples of how that can be done
– What the various hazards that might be encountered in their workplace are, and how to deal with those hazards
– How to identify new and changing hazards as they arise
– How to monitor the work areas and customer areas for hazards
– What to do about hazards when they are found
– How to train employees on specific hazards and control measures
– In-depth emergency preparedness, with location and geographical consideration to specific location preparedness
– How managers can communicate about safety in a constructive and impactful way
– How managers can help employees do their jobs more safety and do a better job at creating a safe environment for customers
– How safety rules and safety practices fit together, and what rules have specific repercussions
– How safety activities are best documented, to fulfill regulatory requirements but also to help reduce incidents and accidents.
– How that emerging exposures and risk trends can be identified and dealt with early
– How that new information from other operations in the retail industry, and other industries as well, can be best brought in to help improve safety
– How targeted safety approaches, particularly in the area of applied practical ergonomics,  can help make employees not only safer, but less subject to fatigue and reduced productivity.
– Any advanced approaches at all, from alertness management, to behavioral safety, to employee-driven safety approaches
– How a positive safety culture and safety climate can contribute to better customer service, quality, and employee morale

What to Do?

Thankfully, the company in question did agree to initiate a safety program, and saw good results from it quickly. Any sizable company or organization needs a deliberate approach to safety. There are many options and stylistic differences possible in the formation of and implementation of a safety program. The common reluctance of retail executives to embrace safety programs should not be a source of frustration for the safety and risk professional. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to show the deep value of a well-devised program.

Making a Difference for Safety: A Case Study

One of my clients recently mentioned that when safety and risk control is practiced in a more forward-thinking way, it can be hard for the uninitiated to understand what that sort of work looks like. There is enough entrenched perception out there of safety as all about rules and requirements, defined exclusively by OSHA, and embodied by inspections and poorly-produced safety training videos, that examples of a better approach are needed. With that in mind, here is a case study of one example of a real-world project for the improvement of the risk and safety picture in an organization. I will periodically offer additional case studies to shed additional light on how safety and risk approaches can be improved in practice.

A medium-sized light manufacturing operation (400 employees at three locations) with a full-time safety manager and three safety coordinators (one per site, with safety as a collateral responsibility along with human resources and training duties). The operation had a well-structured traditional safety program in place, and good participation on compliance-related matters overall. The major point of concern was an unfavorable trend of injuries related to lifting and manual material handling, with some high-cost claims and a significant number of lost time cases.

Because the company had a fairly complete and well-functioning safety program, a targeted accident prevention approach was selected, related to manual material handling issues. Injuries in the selected category included a large number of lower (lumbar) back issues, as well some neck and shoulder injures. A steering team was selected to do some analysis of the numbers, narratives, accident investigations, and ongoing work activities related to the issue. The steering team was charged with working on both the process-related and problem-solving aspects of the issue. In the course of the team’s analysis and information gathering, as well as through joint discussions with senior management, it was decided to implement a practical ergonomics approach to soft tissue injury prevention. This approach was set up to be led by the employee team, with a management liaison assigned to guide the team and be a connection to department heads and facility leadership.

Choosing an Approach for Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention
The team considered a number of systems for ergonomic approaches and musculoskeletal injury prevention. These approaches had different “headlines,” and were variously billed as:
– Back safety
– Back injury prevention
– Soft tissue injury prevention
– Musculoskeletal injury prevention
– Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) prevention
– Lifting safety
– Manual material handling safety
– Industrial athletics
– Ergonomics, including the variants of “practical ergonomics,” “occupational biomechanics,” and “applied ergonomics”

Some of these names are applied by the providers of the various approaches with great care, and other names are

Types of Approaches Considered
The main types of approaches evaluated included:

– Traditional approaches that focused on classroom training, posters, videos and rules for workplace activity.

– Topic-based grouped packages of video, multimedia, and interactive material, that included material (mostly aimed at safe lifting and back injury prevention) focusing on task setup and lifting techniques.

– Onsite “school” approaches where trainers are brought in to lead the workforce through training experiences related to back injury prevention. Several of these approaches included rather extensive training with a large amount of material and in-depth in-class exercises. Several of the offerings also included a certification or certificate of completion component.

– “System” approaches where a set of techniques (often with proprietary names, slogans, and support materials) were accompanied by consultation with ergonomists or ergonomics specialists

– Ergonomic evaluation instruments that encapsulate a group of factors that impact ergonomic risk and provide for observation and scoring of work activities with numerical scoring

– Holistic approaches based on varied functional disciplines, ranging from martial arts, to yoga, to dance, to athletics.

– Engineering-centered approaches that place primary (or even exclusive) emphasis on facility, equipment, tools, materials, and job design factors.

– Post-incident topic-independent analysis, such as root cause analysis, fault tree, and cause train analysis

Exalted Methodology
One of the interesting results of this examination and selection process was the relatively common contention among solution providers that their particular methodology was distinctively superior to other approaches. After much examination of the relative differences in methodologies and the

A Hybrid Approach
One of the key takeaways we experienced from the solution selection process was that among varied methods, there were various aspects from several different ones that had particular merit given the situation the client group faced, but there were some approach elements from differing methods that were judged to be a better fit. The result of in-depth examination and analysis was a decision to combine elements of several of the approaches, in a customized fashion with consideration of the unique characteristics of the workplaces in question.

Structure and Sequence
Though the details of the approach for this client are worth exploring, those details will require a separate article. Instead, we’ll focus for the moment on the basic structure and implementation steps employed.

– First, claims, first aid, near-miss, accident investigation, and behavioral observation data was compiled and analyzed.

– Second, the existing safety climate and safety management structure was analyzed.

– Third, engineering factors and job design were evaluated.

– Fourth, a physical technique improvement approach was put into place, including baseline techniques, means to establish checkpoints and job aids, and field reinforcement and adjustments

– Fifth, a separate risk factor “quick check” was rolled out, using different underpinnings than the physical technique improvement above. The difference in model concept turned out to be a significant positive benefit to the this overall approach, giving engaged and motivated employees and their managers a chance to confront the idea that there are different ways to approach complex problems, and that deep improvement endeavors fare much better when they are not viewed as rote exercises.

– Sixth, a continuous improvement team was assembled with membership distinct from the steering committee, with the goal of keeping close tabs on how the process elements of the intervention work, and what extended and expanded elements were right to consider implementing

This particular intervention resulted in a very significant drop in associated claims in the affected categories, across all sites. Though the details of the intervention prevent any simplistic summary of how the process worked, one key thread was the coupling of a sense of ownership and participation from the workforce with concrete and sustained reduction of claims frequency and severity. Some of these details will be covered in future articles, but the main takeaway from this high-level view is that selecting a good strategy, getting the right people involved, providing regular guidance, and securing the active support of upper management provide a solid basis for serious safety improvements.

Risk Perspective: Foodborne Illness Prevalence

Fresh Fish at a Fish Market

Fresh Fish at a Fish Market

Why Foodborne Illnesses Matter
Foodborne Illness is a significant business hazard risk area affecting restaurants, food service, and food production operations, and many other service, hospitality, and manufacturing industries. It is also an important topic for personal risk control. Because of the importance of the issue, and how many people it touches in one way or another, it deserves repeated coverage from several angles and levels of depth.

The types and categories of foodborne illness, risk factors, signs and symptoms, prevalence, severity levels, and control measures are all worth becoming familiar with to a certain degree. That degree varies, of course, based on your business and personal connection to the issue, but we will begin with some items of near-universal applicability. To that end, let’s take a brief look at what individual foodborne illnesses are the most common and the most dangerous.

Most Common Foodborne Illnesses
(By number of cases in the U.S.)
1. Norovirus
2. Salmonella
3. Clostridium Perfringens
4. Campylobacter spp.
5. Staphylococcus Aureus

Most Dangerous Foodborne Illnesses
(By number of fatalities in the U.S.)
1. Salmonella
2. Toxoplasma Gondii
3. Listeria Monocytogenes
4. Norovirus
5. Campylobacter spp.

Bacteria Under the Mircoscope

Pathogens Under the Microscope

A Question for You

So here’s the question and the issue: If you don’t happen to work directly in the area of food safety, environmental health, or sanitation, how many of those sound familiar to you? How many do you think about related to any particular set of conditions that you see? Many people recognize two or three and have just about no sense of the rest. Did you have any sense, looking at the lists, of what sort of numbers we are talking about? Here are the numbers for 2011:

Number of Cases of Most Common Foodborne Illnesses
(Cases in the U.S., in thousands)
1. Norovirus 5400
2. Salmonella 1000
3. Clostridium Perfringens 965
4. Campylobacter spp. 845
5. Staphylococcus Aureus 241

Most Dangerous Foodborne Illnesses
(By number of fatalities in the U.S.)
1. Salmonella 378
2. Toxoplasma Gondii 327
3. Listeria Monocytogenes 255
4. Norovirus 149
5. Campylobacter spp. 76

Note:  Foodborne Illness Data from Centers for Disease Control, 2000-2008 and 2011 data.

Chef making crepes

Crepe Making

And It Makes What Difference?

Now what do those numbers mean to you? What is the relative level of danger and appropriate response? I’d suggest that most people in general, and many people in affected businesses, don’t have good answers to those two questions. We will cover some of the facts, figures, and approaches to the control of foodborne illnesses in restaurants, food service, food manufacturing, and at home. More importantly, though, is the idea that whatever your business or personal situation, you need to understand the most prominent risks you face, and have a sense of what to do about it.