Horror sharpens safety seminars Inspectors contrive to shock workers into awareness of safety.

June 24, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

HUGHESVILLE TC — HUGHESVILLE -- One by one, the gruesome photos flash upon the screen: The bloody leg on the railroad track. The pale hand with severed fingers. The charred body of a young electrical apprentice.

Welcome to one of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health seminars, where workers and employers receive a shocking dose of gore along with multicolored handouts on state and federal safety regulations.

"I've got to warn you, some of the pictures aren't pretty," Craig Lowry, chief of enforcement, tells the 30 people assembled at the session in Charles County. And he's right. The audience groans at the slide of the electrocuted construction worker.

The philosophy behind the presentation is similar to that used to impress teen-agers in driver education classes -- that a riveting depiction of accident victims will make the viewers much more concerned about safety.

The seminars, conducted each month throughout Maryland, are part of the state's effort to urge companies to improve safety training.

If every employer had a good safety and health program, 90 percent of Maryland's workplace fatalities could be prevented, Lowry says. Referring to the 40 workers killed last year, he estimates that all but four might still be alive if they had been properly trained and alert to the safety hazards on their jobs.

Under Maryland law, workplace safety is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee, although only an employer can be cited for violating the law. Every employer is required to have a written safety program, and for some industries, there are specific regulations on what the programs must include.

But a having a program isn't enough. "No safety and health effort will work unless there is shared responsibility of management putting a program together and workers taking advantage of it," Lowry says.

A key to preventing workplace accidents is to train employees to work safely. According to state law, workers must be trained about hazardous and toxic substances on the job, emergency procedures and operation of certain equipment. "Generally MOSH expects training to result in the employees' being able to explain how to perform their assignments safely and able to identify the hazards associated with the job," according to a MOSH document.

This year, MOSH is emphasizing safety in the construction industry because it has a disproportionate share of the state's workplace fatalities. Three hazards at construction sites are especially perilous: falls, electrocutions and trench cave-ins.

MOSH gives seminars, provides on-site consultations and conducts workplace training classes. Employers also can turn to professional organizations and the National Safety Council and the Maryland Safety Council for help.

Any safety program is only as good as the company's upper management makes it, says Greg Mehallick, human resources manager and former safety director at Flippo Construction Co. Inc. in Forestville. Each year, the company rewards workers with good safety records by paying cash bonuses ranging from $25 to $2,500.

In the mid-1980s, the company president, Mike Holupka, saw his insurance rates skyrocketing and decided to adopt a safety program. A foreman was brought in from the field to oversee it. At first the effort consisted of little more than getting workers to wear hard hats, Mehallick says. But in the next few years, it became more sophisticated. A full-fledged training program was put in place last October.

Now every new worker is given a four-hour orientation with films to illustrate safety techniques, gruesome pictures of dead and injured workers to shock the employees into awareness and lectures by human resources people on the proper equipment.

Every worker must wear a hard hat, protective goggles, safety vests and steel-toed shoes.

In addition to the orientation sessions, "tool box" talks are given by the foreman each Monday morning. These talks contain reminders of safety precautions.

Mehallick and safety director John Stelma also give twice-weekly talks on the two-way radios, again stressing safety.

As a constant reminder, the company maintains a museum of horrors, with evidence from workplace accidents, such as crushed steel-toed boots or saw chains that cut workers' fingers.

The results have been noticeable. Worker injury rates have dropped and insurance claims have gone down $600,000 in the last two years, Mehallick says.

Another construction company, the Hardaway Co. in Odenton, awards supervisors cash bonuses if they maintain a safe work site throughout the year.

Employees at a third company, Hunt Valley Masonry, wear T-shirts and sweat shirts that remind them of a worker who died on the job.

One morning in November 1989, John Ludnick, 34, attended one of his company's regular safety programs. The next day, the masonry foreman fell from a scaffold and was killed.

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