Multi-dimensional aspects of Occupational Safety

I am often asked why I focus on multiple aspects and areas when it comes to my tool box talks or safety meetings. I like to explain that “Safety” is a fluid and dynamic environment that requires the same mindset. Starting with management of the organization, the safety culture is either allowed to grow and flourish or is kept in the dark and relegated to a check mark on a monthly spreadsheet. Safety does not stop there though, it flows into the daily lives of our employees, from wearing PPE at home to their views on fire safety with their children. There is one binding force to ensure all of this ties in together to form a comprehensive and effective safety program, that person is the safety professional.

I chose to do this article in a slightly unorthodox method. I utilized the format of article reviews that show the multi-dimensional and fluidity of safety. These articles range from the construction industry to the huge disparity we see in our communities in basic fire protection. The articles provide solid background evidence and my interpretations (or “reviews”) helps to break it down a little further to help flesh out the root causes or at least plant the seed of how to grow effective mitigation plans.

The first article I chose is on the topic of increased occupational safety crimes. “Why are occupational Safety Crimes Increasing?” details that safety violations are crimes against society and yet are not reported as such in many cases. The violators are not prosecuted as criminals in many instances, even though the act may be willful violations (Estrada, Flyghed, Nilsson & Bäckman, 2014). Safety violations have not typically been viewed as crimes until recently, which was due to changing definitions of criminal activity. The requirement to report all occupational related deaths and serious injuries has also lead to an increase in visible safety violations.

This is a pertinent article in today’s work force with greater diversity and more globalized organizations. Safety violations can be seen as learning tools, however they can also become deadly very quickly. When criminal prosecution does not view safety violations as major concerns, the employees are at risk for occupational mishaps. When willful violations are identified and regulatory officials have taken multiple corrective actions, safety crimes become a danger to society.

An example is all too common for this issue; the leading cause of construction deaths are falls by workers not wearing their personal protective equipment. While in many cases this may be a simple oversight by the victim, others are not so subtle. When a construction company is fined by OSHA for unsafe scaffolding multiple times, and a workers falls and dies from that scaffolding it should be viewed the same as a willful violation safety crime. Unfortunately, the judicial system may experience the slow moving machine of inspections and re-inspections before actual charges are filed (Estrada, Flyghed, Nilsson & Bäckman, 2014). This article brings a spotlight to an important issue that today’s workforce and businesses need to view as a serious one.

The second article “High Performance Work Systems and Occupational Safety” highlights safety program management approaches. In the Human Resources department, high performance teams have always been recognized as the most effective way to form work groups and achieve results. It was the traditional view to manage safety programs in a control-based method, however this viewpoint has been challenged with the lessons learned of high-commitment methods (Zacharatos, Barling, & Iverson, 2005). This has led to greater success in achieving organizational safety goals and reduced the strictly reactionary view of safety management.

The article describes a very important facet of human resources and safety management; when control methods are not interactive it has less effective outcomes. This is a core principle in many management disciplines, specifically for those dealing with high performance teams. The one focus that sets these teams apart from many others is the commitment of each member to achieve results. Control-based methods have the view that employees will only do the bare minimum to achieve a result. When high commitment is achieved, results are much more effective from an organizational and employee satisfaction standpoint.

This plays a large role on safety management; if the manager is hands-off and relies on administrative controls without achieving employee commitment, results will be the bare minimum. When it comes to occupational safety, the bare minimum may still lead to a mishap. High commitment is required to achieve safety goals and ensure employee health is not a “minimum” factor.

The third article describes how occupational safety goals and organizational performance are not exclusive to each other. This article really ties in to the second one that commitment is an important ingredient of successful safety programs (Fernández-Muñiz, Montes-Peón, & Vázquez-Ordás, 2009). This high commitment view must start from the top of the management chain to be effective; this also plays into managing high performance teams, they require support from the top as well.

The view that safety must be a top priority of management for effective organizational goals is critical. Safety plays a role in every employee’s psychological well-being and their commitment to the group they belong to. If management does not ensure a safe and healthy work environment, employee devotion drops and organizational goals will not be achieved (Fernández-Muñiz, Montes-Peón, & Vázquez-Ordás, 2009).

High productivity and improved mishap rates require a top-down approach; without this relationship safety goals will not be achieved. From a strictly results driven viewpoint, an affective safety management program will increase the bottom line. From the viewpoint of human resources, committed management means committed employees. As the second article pointed out as well, committed employees will drive high performance teams. Ultimately, the organization will experience greater successes and efficiency improvements.

In the next article, performance management for the safety culture is discussed. Every functioning organization requires some system to of measurement to determine how well different areas are performing. The financial department looks at their income and expenditures as indicators, HR has systems of performance management, and safety is no exception.

Traditional indicators for the safety program can be the number of accidents over a period of time. Depending on the rate of mishaps, this can allow for organizational introspection to create an adaptation and intervention plan. However, while traditional management views may only be interested in a decreased injury rate over time, a true safety focused culture will focus on hazards as well. This is the main importance of ensuring an implementation of a safety performance management system (Arezes & Miguel, 2003). This requires the support of the top of the organizational hierarch, as stated in many of the previous articles.  The article did a very good job of pointing out the need for adequate performance indicators and adaptation. Focusing on just injury rates will also only provide a very limited view of the true performance of the program; the indicators must be broad enough to gain a fully comprehensive management tool.

Another article that ties very heavily into performance management discusses the use of reliable databases for tracking safety management related items (Keren, West, Rogers, Gupta, & Mannan, 2003). While the article is geared towards the chemical industry, the idea of utilizing databases for safety management is not unique. The authors argue that databases must be reliable in order to reduce mishaps and risk reductions. Through the use of a database that can measure fail and compliance rates, then an organization can achieve continuous process improvement in their safety goals.

Following on the same argument that tracking and measuring is imperative in the safety program, the next article focuses on the construction field. The leading industry in workplace deaths is in the construction industry, traditional tracking models of fatal and non-fatal accidents focus mainly on the workers compensation side (Cressler & Moore, 2016). Instead, tracking the time lost and the relative impact this has on organization or job site introduces a different dimension that can be utilized in the data tracking process. What this tracking model does is turns the fatality or non-fatal incident into a hypothetical lost potential for the business and in turn we can work out potential lost income. While this may seem less than traditional and not very helpful to the safety management team, it does provide more data to use.

On the subject of construction and safety management, another issue that plagues workers is hearing loss. The next article discusses how the propensity of workers to utilize hearing protection devices (HPD) at work will determine how they wear them in their off duty time (Beach, Gilliver & Williams, 2015). As safety professionals we have the opportunity to help “train” employees to always wear HPDs even when not at work, this is done by stressing the importance of them and the long term effects of not wearing them. The study that was conducted showed an interesting trend for the wear of HPDs during leisure activities by those members, male and female, tended to have to wear them at work on a regular basis. The study did find a comparison to participants wearing HPDs while attending nightclubs tended to have worked in the music industry at some point, but that was not always the case. That may have been irrelevant data for many occupational settings, however if the safety manager was good enough to get someone to wear hearing protection at a nightclub, that is exceptional.

Another industry that suffers from hearing loss, specifically long term and tinnitus, is the military (Patil & Breeze, 2011).  Permanent cochlear nerve damage is common in military members that deal with impulse noises or sustained high levels. Impulse noises can be characterized as high level damaging sounds that peak and drop very quickly, an example is a rifle shot. Sustained noise is characterized by damaging sounds that peak and do not drop quickly; an example is runway operations. A jet engine, or a running C-150 can hit decibel levels of 130 – 150; cochlear nerve damage occurs at 130-140 decibels (Marriot, 2014).

Runway operations easily handle this issue with large bulky HPD that is equipped with radio transmission equipment to stay in contact with each member of the team. The main issue with combat forces, those experiences damaging impulse noise, is that HPD that protects from the 140 or higher peak of a rifle burst is bulky and limits effective communication (Patil & Breeze, 2011).  This has led to the introduction of radical new HPD that combines the protection of over-ear protection with in-ear canal devices. They are electronically controlled to mitigate impulse noise and amplify low-level noises. This protects the user from damaging noise levels while encouraging them to actually wear HPD due to effective communication capabilities, due to the 2-way radios they can connect the earpieces to.

However, it is not only construction workers and the military that suffer from hearing loss, there are many other industries all over the world that experience debilitating levels of noise (Reddy, Welch, Thorne, & Ameratunga, 2012). While hearing protection is exceptional at protecting hearing over the long run if worn correctly, personal protective equipment does fall lower on the hierarchy of control mitigation than engineering or administrative ones.

The first attempt should always be to build the noise out of the environment as much as possible, especially in industries that operate in enclosed environments such as manufacturing. Engineering controls can include solutions such as sound dampening materials, sound barriers, isolation, and vibration isolators (if applicable). Administrative controls also require industrial hygiene to have some input; a sound study will need to be conducted for accurate data. Scheduling members to ensure they do not break the maximum noise limit in the environment, or scheduling members on a rotating cycle can all be used to accomplish these goals.

An interesting article that is still on the topic of hearing protection for an at-risk group was for orchestral members (O’Brien, Driscoll, Williams & Ackermann, 2014). The article stated how even the custom fitted HPDs that were used still had an inadequate effect towards hearing loss. Clinical trials are being conducted with electronic earpieces that allowed for hearing protection while functioning as a high quality earpiece. They are essentially the same piece of equipment now utilized by our combat troops on the ground all over the globe. The article makes no mention of this fact, however, the clinical trials will show the effectiveness of the earpieces, which have been proven under much more rigorous conditions and environments.

In the same strain as the first HPD article where people were more likely to wear them during leisure activities, almost the opposite is found for fire safety (Study, 2012). Organizations and safety managers spend countless hours developing, implementing, and practicing fire safety and prevention. Employees are a part of this process in some way on an almost monthly basis. Yet the study by Liberty Mutual Insurance found that less than half of the U.S. households surveyed had ever conducted a fire drill at home. 32% of the children could not confirm that they knew of a safe spot in the case of a fire, and only 36% had ever walked through the house with their parents to identify fire hazards.

This is particularly disturbing due to the fact that in 1999 a study by Child Protective Services found 16 million homes without smoke detectors (CPSC, 1999). While this data is close to two decades old; in 2010, after the push by communities to install the 10-year life span smoke detectors eight years earlier, a study was conducted. Out of the originally installed detectors only 34% were still installed and 27% were not functioning, a large majority were simply missing. The study only sampled a random 384 houses, however this data is not promising for the rest of them (Jackson, Wilson, Akoto, Dixon, Jacobs & Ballesteros, 2010).

In the U.S. alone, 3,000 people die from house fires, and a majority of those are because of non-functioning smoke detectors (Study, 2012). This compilation of three articles is important for safety professionals, not just for the occupational setting. When the employees are listening to the safety manager for required training on fire safety, that is the time to stress the importance of home safety compliance as well. Not just for that member, but for their children as well. Providing information on why fire safety and prevention is important at home is the same as providing information on why HPDs are important on the job and during leisure activities.

Every article cited in this paper leads up to this final point; safety is not just for an occupational setting. The safety manager is in a unique position to influence human beings to not only stay safe at work, but also stay safe at home and teach those principles to others. When this responsibility is forgotten we end up with statistics like 16 million homes do not even have a functioning smoke detector, or 54% of families have never even practiced a fire drill. While the safety professional cannot be expected to reach everyone they have to set a positive influence at work and in their personal life. Every article cited in this paper has shown how true safety culture stems from the top down, without that support there is no pro-activity, just a reactive force. From management principles to hearing protection to fire prevention at home, the safety professional is part of it all.


Arezes, P. M., & Miguel, A. S. (2003). The role of safety culture in safety performance measurement. Measuring Business Excellence, 7(4), 20-28. Retrieved from

Beach, E. F., Gilliver, M., & Williams, W. (2015). Hearing protection devices: Usage at work predicts usage at play. Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, doi:10.1080/19338244.2015.1089828

Estrada, F., Flyghed, J., Nilsson, A., & Bäckman, K. (2014). Why are occupational safety crimes increasing?. Journal Of Scandinavian Studies In Criminology & Crime Prevention, 15(1), 3-18. doi:10.1080/14043858.2013.864840

Cressler, T. E., & Moore, J. R. (2016). Tracking safety performance in construction: A focused approach to the measurement of fatal and non-fatal injuries, 2003–2012. Safety Science, 88, 44-53. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2016.04.023

Fernández-Muñiz, B., Montes-Peón, J. M., & Vázquez-Ordás, C. J. (2009). Relation between occupational safety management and firm performance. Safety Science, 47(7), 980-991. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2008.10.022

Jackson, M., Wilson, J., Akoto, J., Dixon, S., Jacobs, D. E., & Ballesteros, M. F. (2010). Evaluation of fire-safety programs that use 10-year smoke alarms. Journal of Community Health, 35(5), 543-548. doi:10.1007/s10900-010-9240-y

Keren, N., West, H. H., Rogers, W. J., Gupta, J. P., & Mannan, M. S. (2003). Use of failure rate databases and process safety performance measurements to improve process safety. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 104(1-3), 75-93. doi:10.1016/S0304-3894(03)00236-X

Marriot, J. (2014). PDF. University of Illinois.

O’Brien, I., Driscoll, T., Williams, W., & Ackermann, B. (2014). A clinical trial of active hearing protection for orchestral musicians. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 11(7), 450-459. doi:10.1080/15459624.2013.875187

Patil, M. L., & Breeze, J. (2011). Use of hearing protection on military operations. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 157(4), 381-384. doi:10.1136/jramc-157-04-06

Reddy, R. K., Welch, D., Thorne, P., & Ameratunga, S. (2012). Hearing protection use in manufacturing workers: A qualitative study. Noise & Health, 14(59), 202-209. doi:10.4103/1463-1741.99896

Smoke detectors don’t work in 16 million homes, CPSC reports. (1999). Professional Safety, 44(12), 14.

Study finds alarming lack of home fire safety practice, families neglect planning. (2012). Professional Safety, 57(12), 14.

Zacharatos, A., Barling, J., & Iverson, R. D. (2005). High-Performance Work Systems and Occupational Safety. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 90(1), 77-93. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.90.1.77