What is National Safety Month?

The month of June was established as National Safety Month by the National Safety Council in 1996. The purpose is to increase awareness of leading safety and health risks likely to cause injury and death.  The term safety is defined as the control or elimination of recognized hazards to attain an acceptable level of risk. Historical data serves as the tool driving our attention to the dangers or hazards most likely to cause harm as well as the severe consequences experienced by leaving them unaddressed. By recognizing hazards, we can develop both understanding of detrimental magnitude as well as an interactive solution leading to a positive productive outcome.

National Safety Month is a selection of weekly themes based on current incident data published in National Safety Council’s, “Injury Facts,” injury and illness data. The most recent data year available is 2020. Preventable injury related deaths in the U.S. were 200,995 a 16.1% increase over 2019.  The leading death injury causes are poisonings which include overdoses, motor vehicles and falls. Nonfatal preventable injuries in 2020 rose nearly 16% over 2019. In 2020, 55.4 million or 1 in 6 people sought medical attention for nonfatal injuries (NSC Injury Facts). The interpretation of the word accident implies chance or fate led to the consequence of injury or death allowing the perception that prevention was not possible. Injury incident prevention is entirely possible without eliminating life’s productivity, enjoyment, and adventure. All of us working together can make this happen.

People frequently say safety is, “common sense.” Common sense is sound practical judgment based on experience rather than study. Many times, life experience serves as an excellent guide when making choices but the disproportionate ratio of hazards i.e., danger, to actual damaging incidents creates a bias easily influenced by comfort, convenience, and expediency. The sense of urgency created by a cell phone call or text message while driving comes to mind. We answer the call or text thinking we are multitasking, and our driving skills are not diminished beyond our acceptable level of risk. The NSC data for 2021 shows 46,020 people died and over 4,000,000 were injured in car crashes. Distractions are a common vehicle crash factor and people process information in a serial or linear fashion not concurrently. Talking on the cellphone decreases cognitive speed and driver reaction time increasing the likelihood of a crash. However, what if you just had to brake hard and no crash occurred? Your common sense will be conditioned to dismiss the likelihood of a negative outcome resulting from the distracted behavior.

Safety Month 2022 will address four themes: musculoskeletal disorders, impairment, injury prevention, slips, trips, and falls. Identifying areas of concern will lead us to awareness and solutions resulting in decreased injuries.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement and musculoskeletal system. They impact our muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels and more. Many times, the simple explanation for MSDs is they are soft tissue injuries. Pain, inflammation, weakness, restricted blood flow result from these various itises, syndromes, etc. Our bodies get jolted, stretched, over exerted, strained and sprained from awkward positions, repetitive motions, and overloads to name a few. What can we do to prevent these injuries? Act like an athlete, take care of your cardiovascular system, stretch, and maintain flexibility, eat a healthy diet, exercise within your limits, use good posture, use good lifting and carrying techniques, use mechanical assistance when needed, properly treating an injury, the list goes on.  In no way is this an all-inclusive list of solutions; the point is to recognize the concern, understand the potential impact of MSDs, and actively work developing practical solutions.

Our inability to function normally or safely, impairment, can result from several factors including chemical substances, drugs and alcohol, or physical factors like fatigue, mental distress, or even social stress factors. Impairment reduces concentration, decreases coordination, sensory perception, slows reaction time and can create psychological impacts as well as impacting behaviors and performance. In 2021 drug overdoses topped 100k as reported by the CDC. Sleeping disorders, an impairing factor, are also causal factors in work injuries, highway crashes and more. Many Americans claim that stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Prioritizing wellness and safety within a work culture, educating employees and others in the community, developing workplace policies, providing avenues for help through health plans will all aid in reducing impairment injuries. We should all put time and effort into knowing and acting to eliminate impairment shortcomings.

Slips, trips and falls consistently rank in the top causes of workplace injuries (NSC Injury Facts). We can go back to our childhood days and recall the “we fall down and go boom,” phrase. As old as that phrase is, we still struggle with gravity and its effect on our bodies ability to remain upright. We don’t necessarily have to go boom either. Many injuries occur when someone catches themselves during a slip or trip. We fall on the same level once again from slipping and / or tripping. We fall while sitting. We fall into or against objects on the same level. More serious injuries are produced when we fall to another level. We fall from collapsing structures, we fall through surfaces, and off ladders, roofs, scaffolding, or other structures. We fall, we fall, we fall. A fall is an unanticipated descent in space driven by gravity. We either lose our balance or lose our support. Poor housekeeping, slick surfaces, inadequate structures, etc. lead to fall injuries. Solutions can take the form of regular removal of trash and debris, removal of standing water, ice, snow or oil from a walkway. Inspection and training on ladders, stairs are procedural solutions.  Making sure work / walking surfaces are structurally sound and frequently inspected mitigate injury. Training of employees and more will absolutely reduce the occurrence of fall injuries.

Developing injury prevention plans have multiple considerations to be addressed. Commitment from leadership is a foundational necessity to move any plan forward. Organizational communication and documentation, assessments, audits, evaluations, and continuous improvement all go into the administrative and management development of prevention planning. Operational and technical aspects include hazard recognition, evaluation and control, facility design and engineering as well as operational safety programs. Lastly cultural and behavioral elements including employee involvement, motivation, behavior, attitudes, training, and orientation round off a comprehensive injury prevention plan.  These things won’t just happen, we must work at it.

Once again, safety is the control or elimination of recognized hazards to attain an acceptable level of risk. Our goal is to eliminate unintentional injury and death using sound practical controls. National Safety Month is not only an opportunity to bring hazards and controls to the forefront of our minds, but also a call to action. In 1924 Albert Whitney, a Vice President at the National Safety Council wrote an essay entitled, “Safety for More and Better Adventures.” Mr. Whitney explained safety was not a detractor from an adventurous fulfilling life, it was an enhancement to our fulfillment. Simply put he emphasized, “safety from,” is negative and dulls the excitement of life; however, if we make a slight adjustment and say, “Safety for,” it’s positive, energizing and leads us to positive successful outcomes. Use safety month not only to learn how to prevent injury and death but take the action steps necessary to make safety happen.

Dave Madaras, CSP, CHST

Dave is the President of the Chesapeake Region Safety Council and has over 33 years of safety experience. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in construction management from Wentworth Institute of Technology; is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a Construction Health and Safety Technician (CHST), holds an Advanced Safety Certificate from the National Safety Council, First Aid & CPR Instructor through the National Safety Council, past president of the Washington Metropolitan Area Construction Safety Association, Served as an executive board member of the Chesapeake Region Safety Council, and served as an at-large board member for the D.C. Metropolitan Subcontractor’s Association. Dave also has 10 years of experience as a corporate safety director, worked as a risk management consultant, and is a former United States Marine and high school football coach.