Stay safe on the job

Published Sept. 04, 2011 @ 11 p.m.

Going to work can be dangerous.

In 2009, the last year for which the U.S. Department of Labor has numbers, there were more than 1.2 million cases in which workers required days away from the job to recuperate from an injury. Last year, there were 4,547 fatalities that resulted from workplace injuries.

Although injuries are seen as a cost of doing business, that doesn't mean employers aren't making an effort to keep their employees safe. In the construction industry, for example, fatal injuries are down about 40 percent since 2006.

There are three predominate ways in which construction workers can die on the job: by falling, by something falling on them or by electrocution. It's John Kovalan's job to minimize the risks from all of these dangers.

Kovalan provides risk management services to Harold O'Shea Builders, 3401 Constitution Drive. Included in these services is safety training that takes place during new employee orientation, regularly scheduled sessions throughout the year and "tool box talks" that provide safety reminders on the job site.

"What's unique about O'Shea Builders is that, on a case-by-case basis, we develop site-specific safety plans so we can identify hazards and mitigate risks," he said. "They spend a lot of money on protection, equipment and tools to do things right out in the field. We enforce the rules, and we work hard to keep people safe."

Kovalan is a board-certified safety professional with 20 years experience in insurance risk management. As owner of LP Management Services/Construction Safety Services, he also consults with other local companies in the building trades, including B&B Electric, Halverson Construction Co., Sangamo Construction and E.L. Pruitt Co.

For all of the dangers on a job site, construction doesn't crack the top 10 list of jobs with the most work-related fatalities.

That list includes professions such as commercial fishing, logging, mining and airplane piloting. When it comes to non-fatal injuries, however, construction is one of the more dangerous jobs around.

Many of these injuries are incurred cumulatively - injuries to the back, shoulders or knees that develop over time from heavy lifting and exertion. The problem is compounded as workers spend more time on the job.

At a workplace where hard hats, safety glasses and steel-toed boots are common, it is easy to see that injury prevention is a major priority. But safety is also important where the work uniform consists of a swimsuit and a pair of flip-flops.

At Knight's Action Park, 1700 Recreation Drive, employee safety goes hand in hand with customer safety. Because staff, many of whom are young adults, are attending to their duties amid a throng of fun-seekers, extra care must be taken to eliminate risks for everyone.

"Top on our list is guest and employee safety. That's the first thing we want to accomplish, and then we go on from there," said vice president and general manager Doug Knight.

A majority of Knight's summer employees are lifeguards, who receive hands-on instruction on maintaining their own safety while they are learning life-saving skills. Employees who work the go-cart track or around the batting cages and driving range follow procedures that keep them out of harm's way.

Safety is also maintained by paying strict heed to laws that dictate age requirements for performing specific jobs, including those associated with food preparation and operating the park's carnival rides.

Catch me, I'm falling

At the Dunphy Chiropractic and Wellness Center, 2745 S. Sixth St., Dr. Steven Dunphy gets a first-hand look at injuries that have occurred in the workplace. They don't all result from manual labor, either.

"The most common accidents in the office are usually fall-related," he said.
Loose rugs or mats, poorly placed electrical cords and wet floors are some of the most common hazards that can lead to a fall.

Musculoskeletal injuries caused by improper ergonomics are also common in the office. Simple things such as the height of a chair or the positioning of a computer monitor can cause detrimental effects over prolonged periods of time. Dunphy said these types of injuries are much more common than falls or fires, and far more costly in terms of lost productivity.

In addition to assisting with workers' recuperation, Dunphy is also active on the preventive side. In his role as a professional industrial hygienist, he provides workplace ergonomic assessments, air-quality tests and noise monitoring. He also provides businesses with custom wellness and safety presentations that offer practical methods for preventing injuries, increasing productivity and promoting overall health.

While workplace injuries may be inevitable, a healthy employee is a happy employee, and employers have a vested interest in looking after their well-being.

"We're motivated to make sure that people are safe and get to go to work everyday, and then go home and do the things they like to do," Kovalan said.

Dan Naumovich is a freelance writer and business copywriter. He can be reached at

Who's getting hurt on the job?

Number of full-time employees per 100 who were injured or sickened on the job in 2009.

  • Fire protection: 15.3
  • Pet and pet supplies stores: 13.6
  • Heavy and civil engineering construction: 13.1
  • Police protection: 12.7
  • Iron foundries: 11.3

SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

Who's missing work?

Number of work-related injuries/illnesses per 100 full-time employees that led to days missed from work in 2009.

  • Fire protection: 6.6
  • Passenger air transportation: 5.2
  • Police protection: 5.0
  • Nursing/residential care facilities: 4.8
  • Heavy and civil engineering construction, and transit/ground transportation: 4.6

SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

Photo one: David Spencer/The State Journal-Register -- B&B Electric employees Rusty Rogers, left, and Paul Berry work in a trench while installing electrical lines at the new YMCA building site on West Iles Avenue.

Photo two: David Spencer/The State Journal-Register -- Westport Pools employees Danny Thompson, left, and John Gorman wear their hard hats and safety goggles while installing part of the side railing for a new indoor therapy pool at the YMCA complex under construction on West Iles Avenue.

Photo three: David Spencer/The State Journal-Register -- Harold O'Shea carpenter Brock Heilman is helped by fellow O'Shea carpenter and superintendent Eric Knoles as he prepares to snap a chalk line while building a concrete form for one of the indoor pools under construction at the YMCA complex.



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