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National Safety Month: An Opportunity to Focus on Safety

By: Maureen Paraventi

June is designated by the National Safety Council (NSC) as National Safety Month, a time to focus efforts on improving the safety of work environments by spreading awareness of hazards and preventing occupational injuries and illness. National Safety Month has been observed since 1996. The NSC itself dates back to 1913, when it was established (as the National Council for Industrial Safety) at the Second Safety Congress. That was during an era when an estimated 20,000 industrial workers died from work-related causes annually, and two years after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that claimed the life of 146 workers. The name was changed to National Safety Council in 1914, to reflect a broader scope.

Workplace injuries and illnesses cost the U.S. an estimated $250 billion each year. Approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace incidents and injuries occur in the private sector of the U.S. each year, with overexertion; slips, trips and falls, and contact with objects and equipment accounting for 84% of them. In 2019, 5,333 U.S. workers died on the job. The most dangerous injuries are agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, followed by the transportation and warehousing industries and the construction industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 64,640 of the 421,400 employees who were involved in workplace accidents in 2019 missed at least one day of work due to the injury or illness they sustained during their shift. Some 28%, or 32,470, of those who missed work, sustained a sprain or strain, while 14.5%, or 16,790, had soreness or pain, and 13.3%, or 15,380, had a cut, laceration or puncture. More than 5,000 workers died on the job that year – about 15 workplace deaths per day across the nation.

From MSDs to Slips, Trips and Falls

Each year, National Safety Month includes four specific safety related topics – one for each week in the month. This year’s topics are:

Week 1: Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) – Injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs may be caused by work or exacerbated by it. MSDs cases are more severe than the average nonfatal injury or illness and result in high costs to employers related to absenteeism, lost productivity, and increased health care, disability and worker’s compensation costs.

Typical MSDs are:

  • Sprains, strains and tears
  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Hernia

Week 2: Workplace Impairment – Substance abuse on the job can pose a serious risk, but impairment can take on other forms as well. Mental distress, stress and fatigue can also affect an employee’s ability to perform work tasks safely. Employers are encouraged to identify and address all forms of impairment that potentially effect on workplace safety.

Week 3: Injury Prevention – In 2020 alone, more than four million workplace injuries required medical attention in the U.S. A comprehensive approach to injury prevention requires an analysis of the work environment and tasks to identify potential hazards, changes to reduce the risks and effectively and regularly communicating safety policies to employees.

Week 4: Slips, Trips and Falls – Falls are the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in general and are the top cause of fatalities in the construction industry. This National Safety Month topic is an opportunity to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls and falls from height, through changes in work practices and, when appropriate, the use of fall prevention equipment.

Safety, of course, should be a priority all year round and in all situations – not just the workplace. During National Safety Month, it’s a good idea to enhance safety in a variety of ways – beyond the topics of this year’s observance. This may include first aid, CPR and AED training; making sure your home or workplace’s first aid kit has any supplies that might be needed in the event of an emergency; avoiding distracted driving – and making sure family members and/or employees do the same; and taking a self-defense course. You should also have your home tested for radon; make sure you have a functioning fire extinguisher on hand; ensure that hazardous materials like cleaning solutions or pest control products are out of reach of small children and pets; and take measures to prevent heat stroke during hot weather and frostbite and hypothermia in the colder months. WMHS

The NSC has a wealth of resources, for both National Safety Month and year-round safety. Visit the organization’s website at: www.nsc.org/work-safety/get-involved/national-safety-month

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