Safety is everybody’s 24/7 job. Safety is constantly evolving as the world around us changes. An absence of injuries does not prove the presence of safety. On the job or on the way to and from the jobsites, the need for a safety checklist in your mind is too important to ignore. From the company executives to the first line managers, we have found that by listening to workers’ personal safety concerns, wise companies learned workers are, in turn, more likely to and adopt on the job safety procedures.

Kevin Moy, a cabling field installation supervisor (Communication Planning Corporation) shared some interesting anecdotes on safety. “When a new guy comes on the job, I find it better to assume that they are dumb about safety. I talk to them about safety and encourage them to ask lots of questions. Then I tell them that the top step on the stepladders is off limits. If you need to go there, get a taller ladder. Plus, because so much our cable work is done overhead, always wear eye protection. Eye injuries can be beyond serious. Try to imagine being blind. Well that’s just a sample of my commitment to safety everyday.”

Frightening facts

In 2010, there were an estimated 139,064,000 civilian workers in the U.S. private and public sector employed labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey. Each day, many of these workers suffer injury, disability and death from workplace incidents. In 2010, more than 4,500 U.S. workers died from occupational injuries.

Annually, about 49,000 deaths are attributed to work-related illnesses. In 2010, an estimated 3.9 million workers in private industry as well as state and local governments had nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses. Of those workers, 2 million were transferred, placed on work restrictions, or had to take time away from work. In the same year, an estimated 2.6 million workers had treatments in emergency departments for occupational injuries and illnesses, with approximately 110,000 of these workers required hospitalization (NIOSH, unpublished data, 2012).

Annually, occupational injuries and illnesses cause employers and workers to pay tremendous costs for workers’ compensation and other insurance, medical expenses, lost wages and productivity. Additionally, the personal cost associated with day-to-day living for injured and ill workers and their families and various social services incalculable. In 2009, employers spent $74 billion on workers' compensation insurance alone.

The cost of safety failures continues to spiral higher. In 2013, we can expect that more than 6 million workers will suffer non-fatal workplace injuries at an annual cost to U.S. businesses of more than $125 billion.

In late 2012, The U.S. Department of Labor released a report stating Connecticut was in with a group of 19 states that had an average of 4.5 percent of workplace injuries. The national average is approximately 3.5 percent for injuries and illness.

In today’s workplace, the issue of job safety has never been more important to the success of an organization. Litigation, lost productivity and human costs can take an enormous toll if safety is not considered as job number one.

“Safety culture” is a term used to describe the way in which safety is managed in the workplace. It often reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values that employees share in relation to safety. Unfortunately, worker overconfidence is often a potential safety problem.

When strong health and safety practices become part of the operational fabric of the organization, everyone wins. Although a positive safety culture begins at the top, it is still up to individual workers to obey all safety standards and practices and go beyond the call of duty to identify unsafe conditions or behaviors.

Employers that ignore safety can be severely fined, even if no one is hurt.

Employers, who implement environment, occupational health and safety (EHS) programs, often consider timesaving alternative work methods. Many methods will be equally safe and will also meet regulatory requirements. But quicker methods aren’t always equally safe, nor do they always satisfy OSHA.

The purpose of the OSH Act is “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions.” In keeping with the Act, Chief Judge Covette Rooney noted the absence of injuries was not relevant with regard to whether the standard was violated or a penalty was appropriate.

Judge Rooney additionally noted: “As early as 1974, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stated: It is noteworthy that the Act does not establish as a sine qua non any specific number of accidents or any injury rate. Hence, Ryder’s reliance on ‘only 10 injuries in five years’ is misplaced. Moreover the Act specifically encompasses non-serious violations, i.e., violations which do not create a substantial probability of serious physical harm. 29 U.S.C. Sec. 666(g)(j). Avoidance of minor injuries, as well as of major ones, was intended to be within the purview of this liberal Act.”

In 1975, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “[o]ne purpose of the Act is to prevent the first accident.” Lee Way Motor Freight Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, 511 F.2d 864, 870 (10th Cir. 1975) (citing to Ryder, 497 F.2d at 233). In 1980, the Supreme Court stated: “The Act does not wait for an employee to die or become injured. It authorizes the promulgation of health and safety standards and the issuance of citations in the hope that these will act to prevent deaths or injuries from ever occurring.”

We can conclude that an absence of injuries does not prove the presence of safety. For EHS results to be sustainable, work practices and conditions must always meet or exceed regulatory requirements. Leaving things to chance is not an option.

From the top executive to the electrician and the Information technology systems (ITS) installer, we must be aware of safety practices and procedures on the job. We should review personal safety, equipment maintenance, and work sites inspections for hazards. BICSI has published a comprehensive set of low voltage installation Safety Procedures in Chapter 2 (40 pages) of the ITS Installation Methods Manual, sixth Edition, copyright 2010 BICSI. This is a good starting point. Safety Awareness should be addressed as a valuable and real priority for the entire staff. This year, some experts believe that 4,500–6,000 employees will die from workplace injuries.

There are a myriad of safety aspects that are specific to cabling installation. The following are just a few:

  1. Fiber/glass particles, if ingested, can case internal hemorrhaging or blindness if in the eye. They also can stay on clothing and later get into food/drinks.
  2. Never look into end face of fiber that is lit up. It is like looking at the sun.
  3. Good ventilation or masks for cable jacket dust in plenum space are a must.
  4. Use safety barriers on the job site for areas under construction.
  5. Be careful lifting of heavy cable reels. Use your knees, not your back.
  6. Be careful working around other trades.
  7. Be careful when practicing electrical safety and grounding and bonding.
  8. Beware of asbestos exposure in older construction.
  9. Consider OSP excavation hazards.
  10. Observe safe tool use for terminations and punch downs, and consider ergonomics. I’ve seen some pretty damaged hands out there and have heard of carpal tunnel from punching down.
  11. Have a trained medical staff and first aid resources on hand.
  12. Falls are the number one cause of fatalities on the job. Always use non-conductive ladders and use them properly.
  13. Make safety discussion on the job a daily ritual.

Start with a personal commitment to put safety as priority one.

Develop a safety checklist

Common safety practices should include a review of first aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid kits. Also review non-conductive ladders, lifts, safety harnesses and personal protective equipment. Don’t forget to cover the indoor and/or outdoor potential hazardous environments. Safety planning always includes safety training and work site evaluation.

Be aware, and remember, safety is too important to ignore.