Workplace Safety: A Resolution You Can Live With

So many New Year’s resolutions, so little time. Your partners at Texas Mutual understand you’ve got your plate full with plans to get healthier, read more or learn a new language. We hope you’ll carve out some time to improve your safety program in 2016, as well. To make things easier, here’s our top 10 list of  tips you can start using right away, updated for 2016.

1. Promote safe driving

Transportation incidents are consistently the leading causes of workplace accidents across industries. You should create and enforce a safe-driving policy that addresses common causes of motor vehicle injuries: distracted driving, driver fatigue, speeding and failure to wear seat belts.

2. Protect temporary workers
Temporary workers are critical cogs in America’s labor force. If you invite them into your workplace, remember they have the same right to a safe environment as your permanent employees. Whether you represent a staffing agency or a host employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says you have a responsibility to keep temporary workers safe.

3. Remember your reporting, recordkeeping requirements
Effective Jan. 1, 2015, OSHA revised its injury reporting and recordkeeping rule. The revisions expanded the list of injuries employers must report to OSHA and updated the list of industries exempt from keeping injury records. OSHA offers an online portal that streamlines the injury reporting process.

Raul Vega (right) of Standard Energy has extra incentive to take accountability for his co-workers' safety. His crew includes his two older brothers.

Raul Vega (right) of Standard Energy has extra incentive to take accountability for his co-workers’ safety. His crew includes his two older brothers.

4. Remind employees that accountability saves lives
In companies that have strong safety accountability, employees understand they are responsible for their own safety and their co-workers’ safety. Before accountability can embed itself into a company’s culture, management has to make it clear that safety is a core business value that never gets compromised.

5. Comply with the revised hazard communication standard
OSHA has revised its hazard communication standard (HCS), which governs how chemical manufacturers communicate the hazards associated with their products. Employers were required to train their employees on the revised HCS by Dec. 1, 2013.

6. Take Murphy’s Law seriously
Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr. was an American aerospace engineer who coined the phrase, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” If you want to make your workplace safer, you should take Murphy’s Law seriously. Teach your employees to evaluate their risk tolerance by asking themselves three questions before they start a new task: 1. What are the risks? 2. Do I accept the risks? 3. If I accept the risks, what safety measures should I take?

7. Invest in safety every day
Each year, OSHA sponsors National Safety Stand Down Week. The event gives construction businesses the opportunity to pause during their busy days and talk about the importance of preventing slips, trips and falls, the leading hazard among construction workers. Safety stand downs are a worthwhile endeavor, but safety should  be more than an annual, weeklong observance. It should be a constant, daily presence in your organization.

8. Meet your employees where they are
If you want your employees to learn how to work safely, don’t snatch them from their environment and send them to a high-priced safety conference. Safety takes root in cotton fields and greasy mechanic shops. Its messages resonate when delivered by people who have experienced the unique hazards your employees face on the job. Simply put, safety has to meet people where they are.

9. Focus on wellness

A team of Texas Mutual employees that included President and CEO Rich Gergasko (right) and Senior Vice President of Investments Randy Johnson rode the annual BP MS 150 race.

A team of Texas Mutual employees that included President and CEO Rich Gergasko (right) and Senior Vice President of Investments Randy Johnson rode the annual BP MS 150 race.

Fit, healthy employees suffer fewer back, knee, shoulder and other musculoskeletal injuries. When fit employees do get injured, they tend to recover faster and miss fewer work days. If you want to reap the benefits of a well workforce, get your safety and human resources departments working together to integrate health and safety.

10. Use your free safety tools
Texas Mutual offers a range of free resources any employer can use to improve their safety program. We encourage you to visit us at:


Falls Don’t Discriminate by Industry

A roofing supervisor with 25 years’ experience dies after falling 30 feet through a skylight. There were no skylight screens installed, and the supervisor was not wearing fall protection.

In an unrelated case, a construction laborer falls 75 feet through a temporary wooden platform while performing bridge renovations. He was not wearing fall protection, and no fall protection system was in place.

It’s no secret that falls are a major on-the-job hazard in the construction industry. In 2013, they accounted for 35 percent of construction worker fatalities. Many of those deaths were preventable.

To raise awareness of the potentially serious consequences of falls, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is hosting its National Safety Stand Down from May 4 – May 15. The annual event encourages construction workers to pause during their busy days and talk about the importance of wearing fall protection and following safe work practices.

If you haven’t participated in the Stand Down, Texas Mutual encourages you to visit the website and use the free resources. But remember that you don’t have to be in the construction industry to benefit from the information.

Falls are the second-leading cause of workplace injuries across industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you’ve climbed a ladder, used the stairs, stepped off a curb or gotten out of a vehicle today, you have been at risk of becoming a fall statistic.

Here are some general safety tips anyone can follow to keep their feet on solid ground:

  • Learn how to select, set up and use a ladder safely.
  • Practice good housekeeping. That includes cleaning spills up as soon as possible, repairing damaged stairs and leaky faucets, and keeping walkways clear.
  • When climbing stairs, use the handrails, avoid distractions and take one step at a time.
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes when working on slick floors, and walk cautiously when wearing high heels, open-toe shoes and shoes with slick soles.
  • Use slip-resistant mats near entryways, dishwashers, refrigerators and sinks.
  • Make sure you can see where you are going when carrying loads.
  • Learn and follow OSHA’s fall protection standards*:
    • Construction – six feet or more
    • General industry – four feet or more
    • Shipyards – five feet or more
    • Longshoring – eight feet or more

*In addition, OSHA requires that fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery, regardless of the fall distance.


Safety is Music to Our Ears During SXSW

It’s an annual rite of spring in Austin. Throngs of guitar-toting musicians from across the globe descend on the city for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival. A fortunate few will land record deals. Others will earn loyal fans.

All will have the privilege of saying they were selected to participate in one of the most prestigious music events in the world.

If you’re braving the crowds this week, enjoy yourself, but be careful.

In the wake of a traffic accident that killed four people during last year’s event, law enforcement officials laid the groundwork for an incident-free festival in 2015. You can do your part by following these safety tips.

Protect your ears
You will be able to hear much of the music from the street. If you go inside a venue to really soak it up, protect your hearing with earplugs:

  • Foam earplugs are among the least expensive options. You can get a pack for a few dollars at most pharmacies and grocery stores. All you have to do is squish them, put them in your ears and let them expand.
  • High-fidelity earplugs preserve the quality of the music better than foam earplugs. They’re also inexpensive and easy to find.
  • If you want to take your listening experience up a few notches, look into custom earplugs. They’re more comfortable than over-the-counter options, and they preserve music quality even better. Many hearing aid stores and health care facilities that specialize in hearing can make custom earplugs.

Celebrate responsibly
SXSW organizers are limiting the amount of free alcohol served this year. If you drink, do it responsibly:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Don’t drive if you are not sober. Instead, walk or take advantage of Austin’s many public transportation options.
  • If you are sober and you do drive, be careful; other drivers may not be as responsible as you.

Be careful in crowds
Many festival goers spend the bulk of their time on and around Sixth Street. Crowds and confined spaces are a recipe for accidents:

  • If you go into a venue, make sure you know where the fire exits are in case of an emergency.
  • Stay toward the back of the crowd to avoid getting shoved.
  • Bring hand sanitizer or hand wipes to limit exposure to germs.
  • During events that draw large crowds, basic pedestrian safety sometimes gets overlooked. Cross only at designated crosswalks, and look both ways before you cross.
  • Do not wander off by yourself into isolated areas.
  • Put your money and ID in a travel pouch that has a zipper.

10 Tips for Integrating Employee Health and Safety

In our last post, we showed you that employee wellness and employee safety, traditionally considered mutually exclusive, have overlapping goals. By breaking down the silos between the two functions, employers can reap the benefits in terms of lower workers’ compensation and health insurance costs, increased productivity and improved morale.

If you’re still skeptical, consider this advice from the experts at the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). An ACOEM paper titled “Workplace Health Protection and Promotion: A New Pathway for A Healthier – and Safer – Workforce” lays out the case for integrating employee wellness and safety.

“The two factors, personal health and personal safety – each essential to a productive worker and to a productive workplace – are effectively combined in a symbiotic manner that increases their impact on overall health and productivity. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts,” the authors explained.

Of course, our job would not be finished if we told you where to go but not how to get there. Here are some general tips for integrating employee wellness and safety.

Tip 1. Involve employees. Invite employees to help design, plan implement and evaluate the program. Committees are practical tools for engaging employees, but they should include representatives from all levels of the organization.

Tip 2. Involve management. Emphasize the financial impact/business case for safety and wellness programs. Collaborate with front-line management to identify potential conflicts between program activities and production goals.

Tip 3. Develop a clear plan with adequate resources. Set well-defined goals, and commit the time and money necessary to achieve them. If funding is an issue, set smaller initial goals with the intention of scaling up after you have established the programs’ value.

Tip 4. Integrate systems. Encourage communication between human resources, safety and other departments that have employee health responsibilities. Communication allows the departments to explore potential areas of collaboration.

Tip 5. Focus on organizational solutions. Explore strategies that support employees’ efforts to change their behaviors. For example, provide healthy snacks in your workplace to support your wellness program’s nutrition initiative.

Tip 6. Customize your design. Each employer has a unique workplace and workforce. Customize your programs to address the hazards specific to your organization.

Tip 7. Provide appropriate incentives. Financial incentives can improve employee participation in wellness programs. Your incentives should reward safe and healthy behaviors rather than punishing employees for becoming sick or injured.

Tip 8. Protect confidentiality. You must protect employee privacy to ensure compliance with legal requirements, such as HIPPA and the ADA. Confidentiality may also encourage employee participation. Consider using online or third-party providers to minimize the health information collected by your company.

Tip 9. Stay flexible. Your workforce will change over time. Periodically adjust your program to continue meeting your employees’ needs.

Tip 10. Evaluate your programs. Continuously evaluate your programs’ effectiveness based on the goals you established in tip 3, and share the results with employees and management. Try to evaluate using return on investment if possible. Look for reductions in sick leave use, absenteeism, employee turnover and health care claims.


For more information on integrating employee wellness and safety programs, explore these resources:

Previous posts in this series:

Safety Alert: Guard Your Employees Against Machine Hazards

We dedicate a lot of space on this blog to stressing the value of management leadership, employee involvement and other core principles of workplace safety that don’t take root overnight. They need time to permeate every aspect of your company culture, and we promise to continue promoting them on this blog and via our other communication channels.

We also recognize that some safety issues require immediate attention, and we’re nimble enough to help you solve those issues, as well.

Case in point: Texas Mutual has seen a disturbing trend in severe injuries caused by employees getting caught in machinery. For privacy reasons, we cannot share details of the accidents. We can tell you that the consequences ranged from amputated fingers to fatalities.

Machines have moving parts that can cause severe, even fatal, injuries. We encourage you to stress the importance of these simple safety tips:

  • Dress properly, with pants and sleeves that are not too long or loose. Shirts should be fitted or tucked in.
  • Do not wear jewelry.
  • Tuck long hair under a hat, helmet, hair net or into your shirt.
  • Follow lockout/tagout procedures before clearing jams in machinery and performing machinery maintenance. Never reach into a moving machine.
  • Make sure machine guards are in place before operating machinery.
  • Focus on the job. Do not daydream, joke around or multitask.
  • Never take shortcuts that jeopardize your safety or a co-worker’s safety.

More resources

Worker health and safety: A symbiotic relationship

Humans have dogs, and bees have flowers. They’re called symbiotic relationships, and they blossom when both parties benefit from the arrangement.

Nature isn’t the only place where the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” principle thrives. Businesses can leverage symbiosis to improve their employee wellness and safety programs.

Employee wellness has traditionally been the domain of human resources departments. Meanwhile, employee safety is delegated to the safety department. A closer look reveals the two programs have overlapping goals. Employers can get the most value out of them by breaking down the silos between the two functions. Here are just a few examples.

Stress. Stress management training can reduce injury rates by improving on-the-job focus. It can also help employees improve their relationships at home, which carries over into the workplace.

Nutrition. Employees’ diets impact their energy levels at work, as well as their risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Physical fitness. On-the-job stretching and exercise programs, and exercises completed during personal time, improve employee strength and conditioning. Good conditioning, in turn, reduces the risk of strain-related injuries and chronic health conditions. That’s especially important nowadays, with more Americans working into their twilight years.

Chemical exposure. Employees can be exposed to hazardous chemicals on and off the job. Education on chemical hazards at work and at home can reduce injury rates and use of sick days.

Tobacco use. Tobacco use contributes to long-term health problems and increases susceptibility to inhalation hazards. Smoking cessation programs can help address both of these issues.

A case study in integration

MD Anderson Cancer Center created a workers’ compensation and injury care unit in its employee health and well-being department. Within six years, lost work days declined by 80 percent, and modified-duty days by 64 percent. Cost savings, calculated by multiplying the reduction in lost work days by average pay rates, totaled $1.5 million, and workers’ comp premiums declined by 50 percent.

Now that’s a business case for total worker health. In our last post of this series, we’ll give you a few practical tips for integrating your health and safety programs.

Until then, here are the previous posts in case you missed them:

Spring Forward, But do it Safely

Some things are so reliable you can set your clocks by them, literally. On March 8, 2015, Americans will “spring forward” one hour in observance of daylight saving time (DST). This annual rite of spring gives us a little extra sunshine in the summer months. It can also have a serious impact on our safety, especially behind the wheel. Follow these tips to keep your body and mind rested and ready.

sleep med graphicUnderstand the risk. About 30 percent of Americans don’t get enough shut-eye. On the Monday following the switch to DST, our sleep-deprived bodies get another 40 minutes less rest on top of that. The compounding effects of fatigue contribute to a 6 percent increase in workplace injuries and 68 percent more work days lost to injuries during DST.

Give your body time to adjust
Your body’s internal clock needs about one day to adjust to each hour of time change.

Go to bed earlier the night before the time change
It’s easier to make up the loss of sleep by going to bed earlier than by getting up later.

Practice good sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene includes reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising several hours before bedtime, creating calming rituals before bed to gradually relax (reading a book, taking a bath), wearing ear plugs and eye masks, and going to bed and rising at the same time every day.

Drive defensively
People drive safer in the daylight. With the switch to DST, it may be dark during your morning commute, so drive defensively to protect yourself from potentially groggy commuters:

  • Scan the road ahead
  • Prepare for the “What’s if’s.” For example, what will you do if another driver runs a red light?
  • Don’t count on others to drive safely.

Know the red flags for sleep disorders
If you consistently wake up tired, experience daytime sleepiness or fall asleep at inappropriate times, you might have a sleep disorder. Contact your doctor immediately.

More resources
The National Sleep Foundation offers free tools and tips as part of National Sleep Week. In addition, Texas Mutual created a safe-driving educational program. The program includes a PowerPoint presentation on drowsy driving. Other free resources include:

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