Special Topics in Safety Management

First ‘Work to Zero’ Report Released by National Safety Council

Employers could do more with existing technologies to reduce worker fatalities, according to a report released by the National Safety Council (NSC). “Safety Technology 2020: Mapping Technology Solutions for Reducing Serious Injuries and Fatalities in the Workplace,” the first report in NSC’s “Work to Zero” initiative, looks at the hazardous workplace situations that most often lead to fatalities; contributing risk factors; and the environment, health, and safety (EHS) technologies that professionals see as potentially effective.

Safety professional or OSHA inspector looking at a report on a clipboard

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“Hundreds of technologies exist today that have enormous potential to eliminate these preventable deaths,” NSC President and Chief Executive Officer Lorraine M. Martin said in a statement.

The Work to Zero report looks at 18 nonroadway hazardous situations in which workers are most likely to die and provides anywhere from five to eight potential technology solutions for each situation. Researchers examined fatal injury data from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to identify that 18 potentially fatal hazardous situations that include work at heights, workplace violence, repair and maintenance, construction and installation, logging equipment operation, tending a retail establishment, electrical work, emergency response, vehicle-pedestrian interactions, process safety operations, cleaning, loading and unloading, confined space entry, inspections (or checking), heavy equipment operation, excavation, machinery operation, and hot work (such as welding).

Promising Technologies

The three most hazardous situations, resulting in the greatest number of worker deaths in 2017, were work at heights; workplace violence, which can include deaths resulting from intentional physical violence caused by a colleague, the use of weapons, and violence due to robbery; and repair and maintenance, where deaths can result from machine energization, being struck by machinery, or being entangled in machinery.

The most promising technology solutions for work at heights include:

  • Mobile anchor points that can allow workers to attach fall arrest systems to a roof with weighted anchors that do not require penetration of the structure;
  • Aerial lifts and platforms that can give workers more stability and flexibility in their movement without having to traverse a structure; and
  • Self-retracting lines that can be connected to anchors and automatically stop a fall to reduce injuries caused by dangerous amounts of slack in a lifeline during abrupt falls.

The top technology solutions for mitigating workplace violence risks include:

  • Real-time response management mobile apps that utilize a mobile phone’s location tracking and communication functionality to give responders better visibility of who is at risk and where they are located without relying on the workers to report their status;
  • Video cameras, both body-worn and fixed-mount, that can monitor and detect patterns of movement and physical behavior that could indicate physical violence without workers needing to identify aggressive behaviors directly; and
  • Wearable or mobile app-based panic buttons that allow workers to immediately alert emergency personnel when a dangerous or life-threatening situation arises.

Technology solutions for lowering fatal injury risks during repair and maintenance include:

  • Machinery-cutoff light curtains that safeguard personnel near moving machinery at the point of operation and in the perimeter of a machine through automatic machine stoppage when a light field is interrupted;
  • Power management systems that can control electrical functions and manage capacity and load shedding to ensure electrical and arc-flash safety; and
  • “Permit to work” technologies that can centralize authorization and clearance of tasks to be carried out by frontline workers.

NSC researchers also interviewed EHS professionals about potential barriers to adopting promising technologies to reduce workplace fatalities. Barriers to use included technology not easily adaptable to an organization’s specific needs, limited research on successful uses of technology, worker resistance to using new technologies, and limited knowledge of available technologies.

The goal of the NSC’s Work to Zero initiative is the elimination of workplace fatalities through the use of technology. The initiative is supported by grants from the McElhattan Foundation. The McElhattan Foundation, established in 1994, originally served as the philanthropic arm of Industrial Scientific Corporation, a company founded by K.E. McElhattan and his son, Kent D. McElhattan.