Springfield, MO

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WorkSAFE Week promotes accident-free workplaces

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

In a statewide commitment to safety in the workplace, June 8-12 was proclaimed WorkSAFE Week by Gov. Mel Carnahan. It was no accident that the work-week celebration was set in the middle of National Safety Month and was promoted statewide by Missouri's largest workers' comp insurance carrier, Missouri Employers Mutual.

MEM was established by enabling legislation in 1993 and officially opened its doors for business in the spring of 1995. The company quickly became the state's largest work comp carrier, garnering 17 percent of the market.

According to the state Labor and Industrial Relations Board, nearly 200,000 Missourians sustained work-related injuries in 1997. Nationally, there are 75 employees injured every 10 minutes, according to a report provided by the National Safety Council.

Insurance companies are taking a proactive stance to educate employers and employees, and to drive those numbers down.

MEM developed the WorkSAFE program in an effort to help employers identify, examine and do away with workplace accidents and work-related illnesses.

Besides the WorkSAFE packet, MEM supplies to business owners, the company has five field consultants serving the southwest Missouri area with programs and support measures to improve conditions and eliminate hazards on the job.

Every type of industry has a different set of risk factors, and it's important to address those factors specifically, according to Wes Brubaker, loss prevention manager for MEM.

Education and behavior adjustment on the part of the workers is the key to a safe work environment. Many other safety programs focus on unsafe conditions, which accounts for about 20 percent of work-related accidents, according to MEM studies. Those programs miss the other 80 percent caused by unsafe acts, the company stated.

Employers can help by removing certain hazards, but employees can reduce their own chances of injury by a change of attitude and adjusting behavior on the job, according to MEM.

For example, learning proper procedures on how to erect and safely use scaffolding can prevent serious and fatal injuries, Brubaker said. This is only one of several specific risks of concern in Springfield and the Ozarks region, due to the amount of construction going on in the area.

In some industries, air pollution may be a risk factor; in others, noise might be a problem. There are safety measures that can be applied to address each of these issues, help employers meet federal regulations and cut down or even eliminate injury or illness caused by the workplace environment, Brubaker said.

From the workers' standpoint, the WorkSAFE program teaches employees how to work in an accident-free environment and raise their consciousness of potential risks. It also teaches both employers and employees how to take responsibility for workplace safety, according to a release from MEM.

Safety literature and site evaluation are part of the program. MEM representatives will work with employers to make a commitment to a safer work environment, then implement safety management programs, designate a safety coordinator, provide incentive programs or other positive reinforcement, and eliminate hazards, Brubaker said.

The consultants help employers with implementation of safety measures, and employees receive education and training in the safe ways to do their jobs. It's a win/win situation, according to Brubaker.

Since Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation signed on with MEM and initiated some of the WorkSAFE programs, organization'ss on-the-job injuries have dropped, according to Julie Harmon Conway, public relations coordinator for OACAC.

"We have nearly 500 employees and operate Head Start Centers on 30 locations," Conway said. "We were having lots of injuries."

OACAC has formed a committee to examine risk factors at the various locations and make people more conscious of what they are doing that could pose a threat, Conway stated. The organization has set up an incentive program to encourage accident-free conditions at the centers.

The recognition of the designated week in June offered employers and employees a chance to celebrate safety successes, renew commitments for a year-long safety effort and increase safety awareness.

WorkSAFE kits are available from MEM, which include literature, meeting schedules and other support materials. Business owners may call 1-888-499-SAFE for a kit or for more information.

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