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WorkSafeBC wants to make prevention personal

By Mari-Len De Guzman

VANCOUVER — Workers in British Columbia are safer than they have been historically as recent statistics have shown injuries in the province are at an all-time low, but certain injuries and illnesses still persist and need to be addressed.

This was the message of WorkSafeBC’s vice-president for prevention services, Allan Johnson, at the opening session of this year’s Western Conference on Safety.

Injury rates in the province have been at “historic low” and have been relatively “flat” for the last four to five years, Johnson said.

Reporting on 2012 statistics, Johnson said, 50,000 workers were injured in the province. Of that number, 15,000 were serious injuries. There were 149 workplace-related fatalities in 2012, of which 86 are from occupational diseases, 22 are caused by motor vehicle accidents and 41 are due to workplace accidents.

While statistics are a good indication of the province’s health and safety performance, Johnson said it does not paint a picture of the personal cost of injuries. This is why, he said, WorkSafeBC is embarking on efforts to make safety personal by focusing on the human side of injury — not just the statistics.

“Statistics tell a good story, but it doesn’t make (safety) personal,” Johnson said. “Injuries change lives and fatalities are devastating.”

He urged the more than 850 safety professionals attending the Western Conference on Safety to approach the conference focused on why they are working as safety practitioners.

“Ask yourself, ‘why are you really here?’” Johnson reminded attendees.

He added WorkSafeBC’s goal of eliminating injuries and fatalities in the province can only be achieve in collaboration with workplace partners like the safety practitioners.

Following Johnson’s remarks at the conference opening, human safety management systems expert Todd Conklin offered some insights on preventing accidents, and most of it has nothing to do with “fixing the workers.”

“Workers don’t cause failure. Workers trigger failure that already exists in the organization,” said Conklin, the conference keynote speaker and a retired senior advisor on the human performance program at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Conklin said when accidents happen, the tendency is to blame the workers or cite human error. The trouble with this is that it does not ask the right question of how did the worker fail and what led to the failure?

“Workers fail when we make it easy for workers to do work wrong and make it hard for them to do work safely,” Conklin explained. It’s the organizational systems that drive worker behaviour, he added.

Employers and safety managers need to understand the systems in the organization that are potentially open to failure or accidents, and the best way to learn about those things is to find out from the workers themselves — they work with these systems and have a better idea of where the next accident will happen, said Conklin.

Some 1,300 safety practitioners, service providers and suppliers are attending this year's Western Conference on Safety, being held in this city on April 22 and 23. This year's conference and tradeshow features more than 25 conference sessions and more than 70 tradeshow exhibitors.

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