"Near-miss reporting - a workplace injury-prevention tool steadily gaining more credence - poses a conundrum of sorts. Up to a point, perhaps, you might think the more of it the better, but eventually you want to start seeing less.
That's the curious nature of documenting situations in which workers engaged in a task and escaped injury because they were lucky, well-trained, observant, or all of the above. More of such reports can signal a diligent safety culture. It can also mean the workplace is riddled with safety hazards - or a little of both.
The interpretation challenge was illustrated at a Nucor Steel Co. safety meeting a few years ago, recalls Joe Rachford, an electrical engineer at Nucor Steel Gallatin, Tenn. Addressing the gathering, he says, the company president voiced concern about the falling volume of near-miss reports. Subscribing to the theory that more is better, the executive was worried about flagging vigilance. But, as it happened, the company had actually turned a corner.
"We went back, looked at the data, and found that what was truly going on was that our focus on safety had led to more people doing thing correctly - so there were fewer reports," says Rachford, noting investigators deduced that fewer near misses was largely a function of fewer recordable injuries because there's demonstrated linkage. "We were starting to see the fruits of all the work we had put into improving safety."
But Nucor management was on the right track. It had fully embraced what many companies may struggle to understand - as a rule, near-miss reports are a strong sign that safety is being taken seriously by workers, whose knowledge, training, and observation skills are the last line of defense against injury.
"Management is used to driving numbers low, but with near misses, you really want more," says Lanny Floyd, partner/principal consultant with Electrical Safety Group, Inc., Elkton, Md.
It's hard to gauge if, in fact, more organizations today are heeding that message. What's more clear, though, is that safety experts like Floyd continue to harp on the importance of near-miss reporting as a core element of workplace safety enhancement.
A unique risk profile That may be particularly true in the electrical realm, where everyday hazards carry potentially grave consequences. The odds of being seriously injured or killed when encountering unsafe conditions in the electrical environment may far exceed those for other classes of occupational injuries.
"Electrical injuries account for less that 0.2% of all injuries in the workplace, but they have very high severity potential," says Floyd. "One in 13 of the lost-time injuries from electrical contact are fatal, and injuries from arc flash burns and contact with high voltage have high likelihood of involving long-term hospitalization and long-term disability."
Their rarity, however, can blind even the most fastidious occupational safety experts to the need to carefully manage the risk - and that's where near-miss reporting's value becomes clear.
By training workers to spot electrical dangers and encouraging them to report minor injuries and even close encounters, safety teams can collect information on unsafe conditions or practices that could have led to serious injuries. Then, through careful documentation and study of incidents, safety managers can expose and address potent risks and hazards that can lie dormant until a severe injury or fatality occurs.
While incidents that result in injury or death can also be deconstructed to reduce hazards and better manage risk in the future, near-misses are particularly valuable. Because they're chillingly frequent - on the order of 300,000 for every 300 recordable injuries - 30 lost-time injuries and one fatality according to a probability model known as "Heinrich's Relationship," they can constitute a steady stream of valuable condition information from the field. Plus, they come to light because workers were careful rather than because someone got hurt.
Thus, near-miss review programs, says Allison Haluik, an electrical engineer in the engineering department of ArcelorMittal Dofasco, a steel producer in Hamilton, Ontario, can help vividly illustrate dangers and get workers to take safety seriously and think before they act. Haluik, who recently presented a paper at the 2016 IEEE Industry Applications Society (IAS) Electrical Safety Workshop in Jacksonville, Fla., explained the importance of training the next generation of electrical safety workers to better manage risk perception. Papers presented at a succession of recent Electrical Safety Workshops like this one, sponsored annually by the IEEE Industry Applications Society (IAS), offer evidence that near-miss investigations can drive meaningful changes and improvements in electrical safety practices.
Haluik places a high value on getting workers engaged to spot electrical hazards that by their nature are hard to see. Both routine safety and reliable near-miss reporting, she says, depend on workers fighting the human tendency to make snap decisions solely on what's in front of them and to instead take time to carefully evaluate risk before acting.
"It's been said that good decisions come from experience - and that experience comes from making bad decisions," she says. "The value of communicating all accidents, including near misses, is that people, in general, have difficulty recognizing hazards and imagining possibilities of what could go wrong."
Formalizing the process
But for electrical near-miss incidents to be fully leveraged to reduce hazard and risk, organizations must demonstrate commitment. Safety experts say it's essential to foster a climate in which near misses are reliably recognized and consistently reported, incidents are thoroughly investigated, and findings are acted on and liberally shared. Near-miss reports become truly valuable when they're evaluated in the aggregate and, over time, creating a big picture that can expose glaring gaps or trends in workplace safety.
A near-miss reporting challenge that companies wrestle with is the critical reliance on gaining the cooperation of those in the field. Workers must be sufficiently trained to recognize and know when to back away from potentially unsafe situations or tasks. In essence, they must know where the safe line is and be clear on what constitutes a reportable near miss. Then they must be convinced that reporting incidents is their responsibility and won't lead to punishment. Workplace realities can make those conditions difficult to attain, but without them, a near-miss reporting program will be crippled.
It presents a unique challenge in the sense that the traditional management-employee dynamic has to change somewhat, says Shahid Jamil, an electrical engineer and electrical safety expert with BP America, Inc., Edmonton, Alberta. A confrontational environment, he says, must give way to one in which management clearly explains the value of reporting, and workers must be made to feel comfortable doing so.
"The worker has to be a part of the equation and strongly encouraged to report and train on what to look for," says Jamil. "I think we're seeing more reporting because they're getting more assurance that they won't be penalized for doing so."
But the transition from reporting to actionable information and meaningful changes is not always straightforward. To do it right, organizations have to approach near-miss incidents with the mind-set of a detective, gathering information from a range of sources and running down all possible theories for what practices, procedures, conditions, and personnel may bear responsibility. Investigations, experts say, should ideally track a formal process that produces a set of findings and recommendation or directives that aim to reduce the chances of a repeat incident.
A recent near miss at Nucor, Rachford says, was investigated by a cross-departmental audit team. The team reviewed an incident in which workers preparing equipment for maintenance locked out the wrong 120V control circuit breaker, creating a potential shock hazard.
To understand how it happened, the team "walked the procedure down," Rachford says, and verified that the fault didn't lie with the written lockout sequence. Instead, the error resulted from the combination of an overly complacent worker misidentifying equipment that wasn't marked as well as it could have been. The incident report resulted in changes to both equipment labeling and the lockout sequence that would make it harder for a worker to inadvertently select the wrong motor control center breaker.
The conclusions, Rachford says, were a good illustration of the value taking a comprehensive approach to near-miss investigating. And they supported the theory that near misses and accidents don't just materialize, but result instead from a cascade of missteps and conditions - a perfect storm that can and should be deconstructed.
"An accident is [the result of] typically anywhere from six to nine different sequences of events that happen to create the right circumstances," he says. "If you stop any one of those, you won't have the incident. And if you focus on the near misses, you can stop a bunch of them."
That's contingent, however, on how the findings of near-miss investigations are handled. Value typically flows from a process that ensures formal reporting through appropriate channels and certain follow-up and corrective actions, experts say. While workplace safety is partially enhanced simply through the act of encouraging near-miss reporting, which leads to vigilance, it's greatly impacted when dangerous conditions, practices, and procedures and revealed and permanently corrected.
Electrical safety consultant Daryld Crow, owner of DRC Consulting, St. George, Utah, has seen near-miss investigations evolve. He notes they're getting better, and there's more accounting for how perceptions and biases can impact eyewitness reports to near misses. Properly investigated and disseminated, he says, they can help move the needle on safety.
"When they're done in the spirit of fact-finding, near-miss studies can produce more important lessons and identify the root causes of an incident, and many times there are more than one," says Crow.
There may even be an element of creativity that comes into play in how near-miss incidents are related to workers, who bear the brunt of both the risk from unsafe conditions and the responsibility of reporting. Floyd and other experts point to the need for relating near-misses as compelling stories rather than a dry recitation of facts. The more vividly near misses can be framed, the more likely workers are to see themselves as potential victims.
Floyd relates the story of a journeyman electrical worker speaking up at a company safety meeting where near misses were discussed in detail. It stuck with him, he says, because it's a stark reminder that workers may face more day-to-day risk than we think because they haven't been given the right mental tools to properly evaluate risks and hazards. More thoughtful near-miss reporting can help close that gap.
"He stood up and said, 'I can honestly say that in my 25 years doing this work, I've never understood what the hazards are. I've been to training on the rules, what OSHA and NFPA says, what my company says about safety procedures, but I've never been trained on what the hazards are. These near-miss stories have helped me understand that I could have been the victim.'"
In light of Earth Day, which landed on the 22nd, we wanted to highlight an article on how security integrators are implementing green practices. This article from SDM Magazine speaks on the issue:
"Countries around the world have committed to reducing pollution and their environmental footprints. In March 2015, the U.S. submitted a target to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce the country's net greenhouse gas emissions by an ambitious 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China committed to limit its greenhouse gas emissions with a commitment to peak emissions around 2030 and to increase its share of non-fossil energy consumption to around 20 percent by 2030. The European Union put forward a target to cut emissions 40 percent by 2030.
Many businesses across the country, including security companies, are willingly doing their part to develop more sustainable, environmentally friendly business practices to reduce their carbon footprint and save energy and resources as well. But, the question is, can integrators be both successful and environmentally conscious? The answer is, yes they can. In fact, integrators say they have seen countless positive benefits in many areas of their businesses with some of the "green" steps or practices they've implemented over the years, including increased employee engagement and operational improvements.
When Vivint of Provo, Utah, built its first facility more than seven years ago, the company took an interest in its consumption. After all, says Tom Few, vice president of business development at the company, the word Vivint is derived from vive meaning live, and int. meaning intelligence or live intelligently. "We are a progressive company with a dynamic future and we place a substantial amount of effort on staying green and staying contemporary."
For starters, the company offers preferred parking at its headquarters facility for efficient, low emission vehicles. "It promotes our initiatives and gives those employees that are contributing to our green efforts prime spots," he explains. In addition, Vivint has a composting and recycling campaign in its cafeteria. "Handling the compost used to be a part of the chores of our CEO's son," Few says, adding that, as a company, Vivint internally promotes its green initiatives and does all it can to ensure its employees are in line with that same mentality.
A Green Culture To be successful with green practices, according to Few and other integrators, a company needs to promote a sustainable culture within the entire organization. "We started recycling about five years ago, but it was a half-hearted effort," recalls Joe Liguori, managing partner at Access Control Technologies Inc. (ACT), Clifton, NJ. "About a year later, we recognized that we needed to support our efforts better and make sure every employee understood. Slowly, the culture began to change."
Since that first effort, ACT has implemented more sustainable business practices, lowering the company's energy bills by about 40 percent and making employees happier and more engaged.
"We knew parts of our building were inefficient and our monthly bills for consumption were going up exponentially," Liguori says. ACT brought in a third-party company to evaluate and the first step it took was to change ACT's 460-some lightbulbs to LED and install automatic lighting that would shut off when no one was present. The company also changed out its old and inefficient heating and cooling machines to computerized, high-efficiency versions that constantly adjust airflow and temperature. Liguori says the company had thought about some of these changes long ago, but it wasn't until they found out that they would qualify for a state of New Jersey reimbursement plan for many of these upgrades that it made the decision easy.
"Our building is cleaner, brighter, and it makes our employees' work environment better and also engages them," he says. "It was an educational process for all of us and has brought us closer together as a company."
Another company that has realized an additional level of positive engagement from employees by encouraging green initiatives is Times Warner Cable (TWC), New York City. A handful of years ago, the company decided to go full speed ahead with its corporate responsibility program, of which green initiatives is a spoke of that policy, says Dave Flessas, TWC's senior vice president of network operations and executive lead of TWC's Go Green Initiative.
"Our initiatives go all the way to our CEO Robert D. Marcus and most senior levels of the company. so our changes have been really organic and the growth in participation we have seen has been pleasantly surprising," Flessas says.
The company has implemented a number of green initiatives with significant results. TWC received accreditation from the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) as a Sustainable Fleet for its progress made toward reducing total emissions and the negative environmental impact made by extraneous carbon fuel usage. After making extensive changes, including adding more than 400 diesel Ford Transit vans and 200 Transit Connect vans to its fleet in recent years, the Transit vans achieved an estimated 47 percent improvement in fuel economy, according to the company.
TWC also achieved several LEED certifications for locations throughout the U.S. and has installed solar photovoltaic systems at locations in Hawaii and at its national Data Center East in Charlotte, N.C. "We have also recently gone into a partnership with residential solar providers so that our employees will have the opportunity to install solar panels on their homes at a discount," Flessas adds. One of TWC's biggest initiatives is carbon intensity reduction. In 2012, TWC set a goal to reduce its carbon intensity by 15 percent and surpassed that goal with a 38 percent reduction. The company announced a new goal to further reduce carbon intensity by 30 percent before the end on 2016. According to Flessas, the company will continue to invest in fuel efficient vehicles, aim to reduce cooling power consumption, pursue LEED elements in all new buildings and seek additional renewable energy opportunities.
Perhaps the most impactful initiative TWC has made - not in terms of lofty goals or carbon intensity reduction, but in terms of reaching the most people and creating a company culture of environmental awareness - is its Go Green teams. A few years ago, TWC initiated local employee volunteer teams, encouraging them to come up with green events and ideas that could be implemented in their communities.
"We have had great success establishing Green Teams in 19 states," Flessas reports. "The number of the teams and participation in the teams has grown greatly over the last couple of years as we've continued. As employee participation in the Green Teams has increased, so have the ideas that the teams have come up with. In addition to conducting green fairs for educating the community and local employees about environmental issues and holding community recycling events, TWC's Green Teams have looked at everything from upgrading lighting in their individual buildings to brainstorming better and less wasteful packaging, Flessas says.
"The bottom line is, it's good business," he adds. "Almost all the green activities we have engaged in to date have been not only good for the environment, but really very effective operationally as well."
Positive Benefits; Positive Impact
WM Security Services Inc., headquartered in Houston, has seen many positive benefits from its green initiatives as well. "If you work here, being environmentally conscious is really a part of our culture from orientation through your daily work life, and it filters down through us to our community and to our family and friends," says David W. Lee, manager, security operations center.
The security firm has made several mindful changes to its business, including upgrading monitors to high-efficiency LED models, automatic lighting timers to detect office vacancies, non-disposable glassware and silverware in the breakrooms, defaulting to double-sided printing, and a company-wide email close that reminds recipients that "Recycling is a good thing. Please recycle any printed emails."
But the company's largest green initiative, embraced by its subsidiaries, is its recycling and electronics recycling or e-cycling efforts, according to Lee. "We have an in-house technical lab where we test and use different security equipment. As those items have to be put to rest, we make sure to do so in an appropriate manner," he explains.
For everyday recycling, WM Security Services, working with other Waste Management subsidiaries, launched a program it called the "tiny toter trade off," says Kimberly Levicky, business analyst at the company. Standard office trash bins were placed with smaller bins, minus the plastic liners, to save plastic and show its employees about being more environmentally conscious.
Going Green Creates Efficiencies One of the morals of these green stories is that integrators don't have to have large budgets to implement green practices. Small and mid-size organizations can make many of the same changes of larger companies and have a meaningful impact. "We are a small business and I am not willing to spend a lot of money, but I do think everyone can make some choices to save the environment and also save some money," says Thomas Marino, president of Advanced Technologies, Baton Rouge, La. "At our office, I want everything as efficient as possible and that means LED lighting, recycling our stuff and printing on the backside of papers," Marino notes.
While a positive environmental impact is definitely an end result of sustainable initiatives, Marino and other integrators agree that it is not always the primary driver behind the change. Many years ago, Provident Security Corp., Vancouver, B.C., Canada, implemented several green initiatives, including bicycles for guard response and a paperless office. Implementing the bicycles was an operational decision first, says Mike Jagger, president of Provident. The company offers a five-minute guaranteed response time and, for some areas of the city, it is faster, more convenient and most efficient to ride a bike rather than get behind the wheel of a vehicle. "We use them where it makes the most sense," Jagger says.
In addition, more than a decade ago, Provident began moving to a paperless office, addressing the sales process, contracts and invoicing. "At this point, about 98 percent of the business is paper-free," Jagger says. "These things are good for the environment, but the real savings is in sanity. It's just so much simpler to see where something starts and finishes and all steps in between with a digital system. There is more transparency, more sharing and an ability to have more people involved. And just from a stress standpoint, the transparency brings so much value to the table before having saved a dime in costs."
Transparency and consistency were two of the reasons integration firm Cantara of Costa Mesa, Calif., implemented a cloud-based file system about three years ago, according to Jason Voorhees, president of the company. "Before, we were constantly printing out blueprints for technicians and using tons of paper. It's not only wasteful but it takes a lot more time to get those printed. Drawings can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get lost or left at a site," he says. "Moving to a cloud-based system, there was a lot of improvement with consistency right away and far less paper wasted."
Another sustainable practice that Cantara implemented at its 4,000 square foot office space is energy management, and the benefits are two-fold, according to Voorhees. It helps the company save on energy bills and create a more sustainable office environment, but also gives the company an opportunity to use and be able to speak about some of the systems it sells to customers. "Our system is tied into the security, lighting and HVAC," adds Adam Purath, director of engineering at Cantara. "It closes the shades, sets back the HVAC and turns off all the lights when we leave, for example."
But while the ideas behind Cantara's push for paperless and energy management integration may be more than purely environmental, one push at the company that is purely green is its electronics recycling initiative for which it spends a fair amount of time, warehouse space and money to maintain. "For us, we are the type of company that waste is a guilt factor on a lot of people's minds," Voorhees says. "We don't want to throw stuff away. It's a part of tho we are." This was of thinking led Cantara to initiate an electronics recycling program that recycles its own electronics as well as a large amount of electronics from customer homes. "We put a massive amount of electronics into people's homes and our clients have the type of income where they can renovate and completely replace their entire systems in a matter of years," Voorhees says. "So it's very common for us to go into a home and within a couple of days have van loads full of old electronics. Years ago, that would end up in a dumpster and we thought, 'wow, what an impact this would make.'" The company sets aside a portion of its warehouse to store used electronics for recycling pick up that sometimes equals a few bin loads each month.
"It's a completely environmental effort that we are very happy about," Voorhees says. "It may cost us money to store everything for a month and take up a good chunk of our space, but it's the right thing to do."
While integrators implement green practices for a number of different reasons, one of the resounding themes among companies that have taken such steps is a level of consciousness - consciousness that improvements can be made.
"You can make small changes, go after low hanging fruit, see cost savings and make an impact," says Ken Erdmann, president of Erdmann Electric Inc., Springville, Utah. "Then, you think about less obvious, more hidden ways to make an impact." The company recycles everything it can, views trade magazines in digital formats instead of print, makes an effort to buy things in recyclable containers, and refuses everything it can, including bubble wrap, paper and boxes.
"It's a matter of thinking," Erdmann says. "If a manufacturer sends me stuff with packing peanuts, I will call them up and ask them not to use that for me next time." In addition, the company sells and recycles metals from its jobs, and even allows employees to use the small amount of money received to buy donuts and coffee. "It's an incentive to encourage them to recycle," he says.
Erdmann Electric also focuses on energy management in its office with occupancy sensors for automatic heating/cooling and lighting adjustments, Nest thermostats and LED lighting. "We are selling these technologies and teaching our clients about energy management, and if we live with those technologies it makes them easier to sell," Erdmann explains.
For companies that haven't begun to go green, Erdmann encourages them to be conscious, think and evaluate all areas of their business. Some green practices may be implemented to streamline processes, reduce headaches or save money, but the main intention doesn't matter in the sense that the results will still be the same: helping make the business more sustainable and positively impacting the environment.
Tax Benefits From Going Green
Making green changes to a building or company may qualify for a tax incentive or other benefit. It is important to do the research and find a third-party evaluator that may be able to make recommendations for you and your business.
While many Energy Star programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy expired in 2011, there are still some credits available through 2016 for commercial buildings. See: http://1.usa.gov/1PS6Myo
Electronics recycling may be able to be claimed as a charitable contribution when partnering with a nonprofit, according to TurboTax. See: http://intuit.me/1K0IRNO
Other loan programs, funding opprotunities, tax incentives and rebates also exist. Good places to start:
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency: www.dsireusa.org
It's the perfect time of the year to rehash your organization's safety plan. A good way to start off this activity is by identifying concerns and issues in your workforce. Every member of your organization should be involved, from the CEO to each other employee. Key statistics like the total hours worked, the number of injuries, the number of cases with days away from work, and other recordable data points should be collected over time. OSHA form 300, "OSHA Forms for Recording Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses." is a dependable reference to locate various other problem areas. It provides guidance on what to track and includes:
Total number of deaths
Total number of cases with days away from work
Total number of cases with job transfer or restriction
Total number of other recordable cases
Total number of days away from work
Total number of days of job transfer or restriction
Total number of injuries, skin disorders, respiratory conditions, poisonings, hearing loss, and all other illnesses
Independent Electrical Contractor's Insights Magazine has a comprehensive list of requirements to fulfill (by Thomas Domitrovich, P.E.):
Target equipment includes a range from the big trucks and lifts that you own down to the screwdrivers and side cutters and everything in between. Your teams should be looking for wear and tear and any maintenance that needs to be performed. When you find safety equipment that needs to be replaced, get it out of use and replaced as soon as possible.
The responsibilities don't stop when the message goes out to everyone that they need to check their tools and equipment. It's the responsibility of the management to ensure the funding is in place to replace the failed or failing equipment. The equipment check activities can help define your future budgets as some equipment can be designated for replacement in the coming years. This information is critical for your budgeting exercises.
Codes and regulations change and you need to stay on top of them. This applies to more than just the National Electrical Code (NEC) and other similar documents. This applies to OSHA and other regulations that may be mandated for your business, as well. It is important to note that OSHA requirements are retroactive. Ensure you are referencing the latest version of the documents used in your business operations.
Budgets may be impacted by new regulations as well. Unaddressed, these changes can quickly suck the finances from your safety plans. It's important to not only know what current regulations and codes are in place, you need to know what is coming down the road so you can better anticipate changes in future budgets. Problems may not require an immediate fix but rather a plan over an amount of years to address them. It is important to budget and have a plan in place.
SAFETY PLAN UPDATE
Review your safety plan every year with your team. The data recorded above may influence changes to your plan. Make the appropriate changes and communicate them. This, too, may impact your safety budget. Equipment checks; statistic reviews; and, yes, new codes and regulations may influence changes in your safety plan. Take this annual opportunity to continue the improvement of this important document. Your entire team should have an opportunity to suggest changes to your safety plan. Those individuals who are implementing the plan and performing work on a daily basis are probably the best people in your group to help improve this document. They see what happens on a daily basis and, if encouraged correctly, could add valuable information that will help improve the plan.
By this step in the checklist you will have a lot of information that is important for your training program. You may have uncovered various areas of concern and, quite possibly, implemented improvements that will have to be communicated through your training programs. Ensure you include your performance data. equipment check information, and any codes/regulations that your people should be familiar with. This information helps reinforce your level of commitment to the safety program at all levels in the organization.
Your discussions around training should go well beyond internal training; it needs to include your "qualified individuals" and the necessary training they need to keep them up to date on their specific training needs. This is a time to the IEC meetings that are available and can be made available to meet your specific training needs. CEU credits will need to be obtained for those that hold licenses in your organization.
This, too, will need to be funded. Everyone has their role to play and the management's responsibility is to ensure the time and finances are available so that your people are adequately educated. There are many opportunities for external help in this area; all you need to do is identify the need to seek this help out, schedule it, and ensure it is funded.
The important items above need to be communicated. A good communication plan shows the employees the level of commitment the organizations has to safety. Sharing your statistics reminds everyone of the commitment and reinforces your implemented safety procedures. Share with them information on the organization's investment in safety; this shows you have skin the game as well and are committed to safety.
The above is meant to get your head in the game and get you to start thinking about those critical safety aspects that need to occur on an annual, if not on a monthly, basis. Safety should be an ongoing process, a journey if you will. Establish the trigger for your organization to brush off your safety plan.
As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure you and those around you live to see another day. "
Intrepid is now a member of the East Bay Economic Development Alliance (EDA), serving to address the gap in business services such as accounting, insurance, and human resources that are currently not being represented. We are being represented by Darlene Besst on the East Bay EDA Executive Committee.