I loved being a Girl Scout. I earned a bunch of badges and went to camp, and as a result, I can make fires with a single match or two, pitch a tent like nobody's business, identify edible berries and nuts, shoot a bow and identify poison ivy and poison oak. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I'm ready.
This past week has challenged my cheerful Girl Scout "always be prepared" attitude, however.
When I first moved into my 125-year-old house, I realized that the electrical and plumbing needed some updating. While things have been updated since the house was built in 1890, some of those "updates" (knob-and-tube electrical replacing gas lamps, for example) were in need of updating. So over the past 10 years, the house has received new wiring, a new electrical box, a new gas line to the house and lots of new plumbing. As a former Girl Scout, and always wanting to be prepared, I do not neglect routine maintenance. Better to fix something before disaster occurs, in my opinion.
Soon after I moved in to the house, the basement flooded because of a stopped drain. The plumber offered some tips to ensure it never occurred again and I have been religious about following them. The drains have worked perfectly ever since.
This week, a freak, fast-moving, drenching spring storm resulted in three inches of sewer backup into my basement. Suggestions by city employees that the fault was mine (Grease buildup in the drain? I'm practically a vegetarian…what grease?! Throwing food down the drain? Isn't that what the garbage disposal is for?!) left me insulted and I felt vindicated when their inspectors agreed that the fault was the city's and not mine and the city will repair and/or replace the drain. Still, I'm left with a reeking basement and a huge cleanup once the issue is fixed and ain't nobody prepared for that!
Some things in life we can prepare for, some we cannot. Protecting employees is something for which we can prepare.
Several things happened on the regulatory, academic and judicial fronts recently that reminds us that the success of safety efforts requires planning and preparation.
Last month, the National Fall Safety Stand-Down served as a reminder that falls remain the leading cause of death for construction workers and fall protection is OSHA's most frequently cited standard. Thousands of employers took time to reflect on fall protection and prevention with more than 1 million workers. Through preparation – education, training and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment – employers and workers successfully can reduce fall-related injuries and fatalities.
Last month, OSHA also issued a new standard, Confined Spaced in Construction, with the hope that it will protect as many as 800 construction workers a year from suffering fatalities or serious injuries related to confined space entry.
"It only makes sense that all workers have the same protection when working around hazards," said Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels. "This new rule offers same level of protections [for construction workers as] workers in other industries who work around the same hazards." In other words, construction employers need to do the same planning, preparation and training as other employers who are faced with confined spaces as a workplace hazard.
And finally, in May, the American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a report that stated young, Hispanic construction workers are the most vulnerable workers in the United States. The report examined what researchers called "overlapping vulnerabilities," and focused on the factors behind why the population of workers who fall into three categories – Hispanic immigrants, working for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees and young workers under age 25 – are at increased risk for injury and death when working in the construction industry.
According to the report, many immigrants are unfamiliar with the risks they face on the job, unaware of standard safety procedures, receive little or no job training, do not speak or comprehend English and may have work styles different from their coworkers and employers. Typically, the small businesses, which account for 90 percent of all construction firms, do not have an occupational safety and health infrastructure to help them manage standards and injuries.
The message behind the report is that if we know these workers are the most vulnerable and are experiencing an increase in fatalities when other demographic groups are experiencing fewer fatalities, we should do something about it.
It's easy to be prepared when you recognize the challenges you're facing and meet them head-on.
Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected]