If you work in industry, you’re at risk. No equipment is completely perfect, no person infallible – and when the two mix, inevitably accidents occur. The International Labour Organization estimates total work-related fatalities number over 6000 worldwide each day, with over 4000 of these incidents accounted for in the U.S. in the last three years. So how has the industry changed to reflect these figures, and how might it continue to alter in the future?
Industry risks and regulation
Those working in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transportation are most likely to face the possibility of industrial accidents, with the top three causes seen in the courtroom being contact with objects and equipment, slips, trips and falls, and overexertion which impacts on speed of bodily reactions. While many manufacturing industries are able to demonstrate a slow reduction in injury rates over the last three years, incidents in the spring and wire manufacturing industry have increased. Industrial accident lawyers now deal with far more cases than could ever have been anticipated when New York became the first state to enact the modern workmen’s compensation law in 1910.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 is the legislation that currently governs four different areas of industry in the U.S. – construction, agriculture, maritime and general industry. Fatalities in the last 40 years have occurred at half the rate prior to the act coming into force, in addition to the U.S. workforce doubling in number – clearly demonstrating the positive impact robust safety standards can have on employee wellbeing. OSHA continues to set standards relevant to modern working life, offering training, education and outreach, and encouraging continual improvement for processes and procedures across all industry sectors.
The industrial revolution – safer standards and ongoing change
OSHA isn’t the only reason for a reduction in industrial accidents, however. Innovation in technology accounts for a large proportion of this decline, with improvements in safety technology benefiting workers in all areas, and automation taking the place of previously dangerous roles. The U.S. safety system consists of four pillars – policy and objectives, safety assurance, safety promotion, and safety risk management – and OSHA forms just one part of this much bigger whole. Arguably, with standards now well embedded in workplace processes and operation, the role of OSHA should now move towards that of education and promotion, providing information to employers and employees about potential hazards (particularly in relation to constantly changing machinery and equipment), and offering consultation services and inspections to continually assess and analyze modern safety issues as they emerge.
With incidents declining overall, and advances in technology offering increasingly sophisticated safety solutions, it comes as no surprise that the health and safety focus for industry must alter too. Health and safety awareness has been shown to be key to avoiding unnecessary industrial accidents, and an understanding of the law is important for anyone at risk while they work.