No Excuse for Shortcutting Safety

Skipping the simple steps to ensure worker safety is a recipe for disaster.

Safety isn’t sexy. No one gets excited about gas monitors. But no one likes pulling dead bodies out of a sewer either.

Accidents happen all the time. All too often they’re the result of shortcuts, of failing to take simple steps to protect yourself to save a little time. The industry is filled with stories of people who tried to save a few minutes and ended up losing the rest of their years. And if you push your employees to get jobs done faster than safe practices allow, there’s a good chance you could lose your business, too. If fines and lawsuits don’t sink you, the loss of work will.

Louisiana-based Pro Serve places a heavy emphasis on employee safety, which is critical in the markets it serves. The company, profiled in this issue, has evolved into a regional player in the industrial cleaning industry, primarily serving pipeline, chemical and petrochemical customers in the South. Along the way, the company expanded its services from just industrial vacuuming to hydroblasting and hydroexcavating.

Safe operation of all this equipment has played a key role in the company’s growth. In 20 years, Pro Serve has never had any issues with its safety record, which company owner Ronnie Baron notes is difficult to maintain for a small company like his.

Larger companies with hundreds of employees can suffer on-the-job accidents and still maintain a sufficient experience modification ratio (a number used by insurance companies to gauge the past cost of injuries as well as the chances for future accidents). But smaller companies are at a disadvantage because just one accident results in a dramatically larger EMR because the pool of employees is significantly smaller. Regardless of how well you do the job, you’ll be out the door if you have one or two accidents, because the EMR ratio goes up faster proportionately.

The stakes have always been high when it comes to safety, but safety equipment hasn’t always adequately protected those whose work puts them in harm’s way. Newer technology is rising to the challenge, however, and workers today have more options for comfortable and effective protective equipment.

There is never an acceptable excuse to enter a sewer without a proper gas monitor, or to enter a confined space unattended or without the required gear. Earlier this year, those exact mistakes cost three Florida utility workers their lives.

As reported by local news outlets, when crew members noticed a section of a paved street wasn’t settling properly, one of the workers removed a manhole cover and climbed down to investigate. When workers on the surface lost contact with the first man, another went down to rescue him. Then another.

All three died from exposure to hydrogen sulfide and methane gas. None of them wore masks, confined-space gear or the air packs that could have saved their lives.

New gear is getting easier to wear and more effective at protecting workers. This month’s Safety First column outlines some new wearable technology that can protect from a host of dangers. The gear is good, but it’s only effective if you actually wear it.

You need to do whatever you can to protect yourself and your workers on the job. I hope you’ll take that to heart.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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