It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, and Jim, a new worker, was listening to the plan for the day with Jack and Mary as they walked on the right-of-way (ROW) to the drilling pad they would be working on. As they were walking, Jim stepped on a rock that caused his ankle to roll. Instinctively, he put his hand out to catch himself, but his arm didn’t quite make it to the right position before he hit the ground. Everyone heard a snap, and Jim felt the fracture in his left wrist. He knew that pain because he had sustained a similar injury a few years before, and he knew that it would affect his work for the next six to eight weeks. But what he didn’t know until he saw the doctor was that he also had torn two ligaments in his ankle. Regrettably, the surgery required to fix this mess wouldn’t go as well as planned, which would put Jim out of work for the next six months. In addition, this injury occurred in a non-employee-friendly workers’ compensation state, and Jim and his family would face severe financial issues as his take-home pay would be cut from $1,100 per week to exactly $442.28. The end. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending.
In real life, the contractor I work for – Supreme Industries – grew by 42 percent in 2017, which required us to hire many new workers. Surprisingly, of all the issues that could have arisen from this growth, it was slip, trip and fall (STF) injuries that popped up on our safety radar. Upon investigation, we found that approximately 70 percent of these injuries involved workers who had been with our company for less than six months and may not have been accustomed to working on a ROW. In response, we developed an STF training program and rolled it into our onboarding process, a move that – despite growing another 25 percent in 2018 on top of the 42 percent growth in 2017 – has reduced our STF injuries to zero. We at Supreme want to share with you some of our knowledge gained and lessons learned so you can help your workers do the job right and go home unharmed.
First, let’s review definitions for slips, trips and falls.
So, what are some general measures that can be taken to prevent STFs?
One specific circumstance in which workers face STF hazards on the ROW is when they are attempting to get in and out of vehicles and equipment. Here are several ways to address these hazards.
Situational awareness can be an issue with STF hazards when workers:
Rushing is related to situational awareness because it can steal our focus, but it differs in that rushing is an intentional choice, whereas lack of situational awareness is more of an unintentional drift. Rushing on our job sites might look like frustration or a worker “just trying to be a hand.” Regardless of the reason, workers should be calmed and slowed down, and reminded that deliberate, careful work is safer, more efficient and produces better-quality results.
Lastly, footwear can contribute to STF issues when workers wear non-supportive boots without good tread. Lace-up boots that extend above the ankle and have the appropriate soles, heels and tread for conditions should be worn.
About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP, is vice president of HSE for Supreme Industries, a Harwinton, Connecticut-based contractor that specializes in right-of-way clearing, building access roads and drilling.
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