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Beware of 'the way we've always done it'
A few years ago, occupational health professionals noticed a rash of upper extremity injuries within a production department at ATK Aerospace Systems in Promontory, UT. "We looked at the process and made several ergonomic corrections," says David Allcott, APRN, ANP-BC, COHN-S, medical services manager.
These changes included a better rotation schedule between tasks, stretching breaks, adjustable tables, improved tooling and even new automated machines.
However, something else of importance was discovered while taking the past medical history during the initial visits the fact that many of these were repeat injuries. In some cases, the employees had suffered the same symptoms when working for a prior employer.
"Since we had no knowledge of this prior condition, we were putting them into a position of risk," he says. "This was occurring in an entry-level position, and we were inheriting OSHA-recordable conditions."
With the help of a contracted physical therapist, occupational health providers instituted Post Offer Employment Testing (POET).
"Since this was the entry level position for production employees, we limited the testing to this area," he says. "The benefits from POET testing then spread to other parts of the plant as employees are promoted." The number of injuries in the department dropped from 22 with four surgeries in one year to zero the next, and have maintained a near-zero rate ever since.
The goal is to look for patterns or groups of injuries that may indicate a problem. "We start a safety investigation if we find a questionable process," he says. "Hopefully, we can intervene before there is a serious injury."
Each of ATK Aerospace's departments has goals to complete safety inspections, job safety analysis, job safety evaluations, document content reviews, hazard abatements, and safety meetings. "These requirements are in place from senior management to the custodial department," he says.
Hazard abatements are evaluated monthly for high-value potential. Two or three winners are chosen each month and rewarded with recognition at a monthly safety board meeting and are also given a $100 check.
"We have been making rockets for many years," he says. "Some of the hazards have been passed down as 'the way we've always done it.' "For instance, a recent high-value hazard abatement simply repositioned where a 115-pound trunion was placed, so the employee was in a better ergonomic position to detach it and was able to use a crane to move to the floor.
"This simple ergonomic adjustment removed a hazard to two workers," he says. "It improved the production process at very little cost."
The safety board includes production employees as well as vice presidents, directors, and managers. "They can really see how seriously our senior management takes the safety of our employees," he says. "They can take that message back to their groups."
The company's Operating Procedures for Unusual Conditions allows anyone to safely stop a procedure if there is an unusual condition that could put the safety of the employees, facilities or product in jeopardy.
"This awareness of what is a deviation from the regular course of operation has prevented catastrophic events saving dollars, and more importantly, lives," he says.
For more information on identifying repeat injuries, contact:
David Allcott, APRN, ANP-BC, COHN-S, Medical Services Manager, ATK Aerospace Systems, Arlington, VA. Phone: (435) 863-2881. E-mail: David.Allcott@atk.com.