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Join HSI Chief Safety Officer Jill James as she visits environmental health and safety professionals in their workplaces to explore important workplace safety topics. This video explores the purpose and process of accident investigations, the role of others such as occupational medicine and safety committees, and how accident investigation data can improve workplace safety and prevent accidents from happening in the future.
Hi, I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with HSI. I'm a former OSHA inspector, and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards. For this series, we're at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in the heart of the Upper Midwest to show you, no matter where you work, safety training is for everyone.
When someone gets hurt at work, we have to react in some manner, whether it's seeing to their medical care or filling out a worker's compensation report or ensuring others aren't in danger, or fixing hazards and even disciplining employees who performed against known company procedures. We have to react as supervisors or safety professionals. Today we're going to talk about a few aspects of accident investigation, things for you to consider as you go about your work. Joining me today is Brandy, Safety Director here at the Beet Sugar Cooperative, and Brandy, maybe start with telling us what does the word 'investigate' or 'accident investigation' mean here at the plant?
Sure. It's anytime that an incident occurs, we go ahead and do an analysis of what happened. Certainly, the word 'investigation' can have some negative connotations. Employees might fear that type of word, thinking that it's about blaming them-
... for whatever the incident was.
But that's not the case here. We are truly looking for the real cause so that we can mitigate it from happening again.
And when you're doing an investigation, what about having employees or encouraging employees to report things early, like maybe some of those aches or pains or something almost happened. I twinged something. What's your policy? Yeah, how do you deal with that?
Yeah. We train and our policy is that we always communicate as soon as possible. If an incident occurs, they'll say, "Well, what's an incident?" I said, "Well, if you go, 'Oop, that was a close call,' that's an incident." Just think, if a close call is an incident, why wouldn't an ache or pain be an incident? Tell us about that. That communication's not only going to protect you in the long run so that there's no question that it is a work comp claim, if it's a work comp claim.
But also it protects the company so that we can respond to that ache or pain before it becomes something bigger.
Sure. So not only are you looking into the background of something that's actually happened and sustained, maybe an injury or some kind of an illness, but you're also looking into those things that are, it could have happened here-
... or I'm starting to feel a certain way.
Well, it's a near miss.
God forbid it would become an incident. We can prevent that or yep, if we have some aches and pains, it's encouraging people to stretch before work. It's evaluating their work station maybe for ergonomic perspective. It might even be as easy as evaluating the tools that people are using or how long they're doing that task so that we start rotating in other people. There's a lot of different things that we can do to prevent an actual injury from happening if we only know that it's starting.
Right. And so, it's a benefit to the employee in keeping them whole and healthy at their work-
... before something more serious is happening.
Absolutely. And if it is something more serious, getting them the medical attention they need in a timely fashion. For instance, a back strain. If somebody is dealing with back strain, we all know that those type of injuries impact your entire world, not just while you're here at work.
But sometimes people don't want to complain, or they don't want to bring it up because they don't think it's a big deal. Usually, those are the things that from a business perspective as well, turn into a bigger issue, so the number one thing is make sure to talk early and often so that we can prevent any type of impact to you as an employee.
Right. And so, what about your rapport with the medical community? You're an employer here, and you have nearby medical clinics or hospitals. Do you have a rapport that you build with them, or how does that work?
Yeah. We have two main providers in the area. One does have an occupational department.
Occupational medicine department?
Correct. And so the partnership there is we make sure to bring in the doctors. They walk through our facility, understand the challenges that we may face, but they also understand too the opportunities for light-duty work, and that we can accommodate several restrictions and keep people whole in regards to at least their financial standing. We have a second facility locally that does not have an occupational department, so we do take the opportunity to meet with our doctors and nurses and educate much more about the occupational aspects of recovery, and how we can help as a company keep people work-hardened or scheduled so it's not as difficult to come back to work.
And so you explain to your medical providers the types of work and the work activities here so that when they're treating or figuring out a treatment plan, they can take that into consideration and especially through a lens if they've been through the facility and can see and hear and feel what the environment is like?
Yes. Absolutely. We even have job descriptions that include all the different type of weights that people might be lifting-
... what percentage of the time they might be on their feet, depending on that job so that they can even look to an actual job description and say, "Hi, you're a mechanic," or you're whatever position it might be, page through our book and see the type of tasks that you'd be asked to do in your every day world. That way when they look at it, they can say, "Okay, the restrictions are going to be XYZ."
This person can maybe do only 50% of their job, but that allows us as a company to evaluate what we can have them do outside of their position as well that accommodates that restriction.
Yeah, so you can be thinking about where can we place them that's not going to cause further harm or delay their healing process-
... or whatever it might be.
Right, and we do use a format too to help communicate between the medical providers and our company that kind of checks the boxes. One thing I found that if I don't use a form is we don't find out information that's relevant to our OSHA 300 log, so if somebody was given a prescription medication, a pain killer, a muscle relaxant, something to that degree, traditionally, a doctor's not going to write that on any type of form. At least by using our forms which we again partner with our facilities and ask them to use, they check the box saying a prescription was issued. Now I know for sure this has been a recordable injury.
Right. Exactly. And what's a normal response like with your medical community? Are they grateful for the information so it gives them a little bit of peace of mind of when they're trying to decide what can an employee do? Should I take them off of work? What does this look like?
Sure. I think it's a continuous building, a continuous evolution of our program as well. We dramatically changed our program just in the last couple of years, so it's been a learning curve, but they have been more than happy to partner with us, and we take the time to contact each other when there are questions, which has been great for keeping the lines of communication open.
Yeah. The full circle of accident investigation really starts with some of those aches and pains. The real accidents that are happening, the injuries that are happening, the near misses and then the full cycle right through medical care. Is that what it kind of looks like here?
Absolutely. Part of the investigation component is we do partner with people outside of the person involved in the incident. We make sure to branch out into our safety committee and ask not only the supervisor of that employee involved, but we also ask members of our safety committee to get involved, and the idea there is not only are the witness or the employee involved, the safety committee, the supervisor, all looking at this through a different lens.
We're hoping that that helps us identify the best solution as well. We might pull in an area foreman because they know that task the best.
And so, they give another perspective of how to mitigate it from happening again.
And then you can kind of put on your safety lens of is there an opportunity to engineer a hazard out, or do we need to change a work process, or is this an opportunity for personal protective equipment we didn't know we needed in a particular area? Those are the kind of things that you're looking at?
Absolutely. Here's an opportunity to develop a JSA maybe. All of those things that you mentioned is absolutely accurate. It gives us that opportunity to step back, evaluate, investigate, and make a new plan so it doesn't happen again.
Yeah, make a new plan and make someone's job better maybe than it was before and of course, eliminate loss for happening.
Another beautiful thing about incident investigation is we do document what's happening, and in that documentation, we're really gathering information. That information turns into statistics.
Those statistics help us do trend analysis, help us try to forecast maybe where we need to do some more work. Maybe it's a training component. Maybe it's an area of the facility that's always having issues.
And we really do need to engineer a solution into place there. But those statistics are powerful because when you're asking for-
... funding, yes. When you're asking for funding for more people, for support of some sort, they speak volumes. When you can say we could have potentially mitigated three injuries.
Three people would be going home to their family whole instead of injured.
I think that is incredibly powerful, and it really does support our ability to make change.
Yeah, and helps you triage your approach to work as the safety professional in the facility as well when you're making your request, whether it be for something you need financial support for or helping move the needle to make a change.
Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for what you're sharing today. Really appreciate it, and hope we shared a few things with you that you might add to your accident investigation process as well. I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this, go ahead and pass it on. Safety is everyone's business.