Workplace Safety Experts Address Delegates

2018 USW Health & Safety Conference-DAY TWO

After a full day of workshops on Wednesday, participants in the USW Health, Safety and Environment Conference heard from three experts in the field of workplace safety on Thursday morning during the last full day of the event.

Vanessa Sutherland, chairwoman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which has been threatened with closure by the White House, touted the positive changes that her organization has made to improve the lives of workers.

“This year is our 20th anniversary,” Sutherland said of the CSB. “So we are asking ourselves, how do we continue to try to reach people with new topics and lessons after 20 years?”

One way is to do a better job of communicating with workers and unions, she said, especially when highlighting successes and positive outcomes.

“We’ve tried to be more consistent, more efficient. And in every instance, we’ve tried to work with you to drive these changes,” Sutherland told the crowd, which included several hundred management representatives. “These changes have led to significant improvements at all levels.”

Sutherland urged attendees to visit the CSB web site (, which has been redesigned for easier use, to gain access to the organization’s wealth of information on workplace safety issues.

“Our vision is to continue to drive change to increase protections for workers and the environment,” she said.

John Howard, former director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), outlined the challenges of what he called the “fourth industrial revolution” that the world is now experiencing.

This revolution, driven by technology, includes advancements such as three-dimensional printing, robotics and other processes that Howard said present new challenges to worker safety.

“We’re looking at this cyber-physical interface and trying to determine what the issues are going to be,” Howard said. “There is a lot we do not know about advanced manufacturing from a risk profile standpoint. You all are on the front lines of this.”

Todd Conklin, senior advisor at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy site in New Mexico, closed out the morning session with a lengthy and lively presentation on the dangers of “blame the worker” safety programs.

Such programs, which often focus on punishment rather than finding and eliminating hazards, don’t actually make workers safer, he said.

“Workers are not the problem. Workers are the solution,” Conklin said. “Instead of constraining workers, we should be asking them what they need to do their jobs safely.”

Conklin cited automakers attempting to design “accident-free” cars as another example of a misguided approach to safety.

“We don’t need accident-free cars,” Conklin said. “We need cars where – when they do have accidents – the occupants of the vehicles live to drive another day.”

What workers and management should do – together – is not to ensure that accidents never happen but to ensure that when they do, that workers have the tools and the processes they need to avoid injury or death.

“Safety is not the absence of accidents,” he said. “Safety is the presence of capacity.”

Participants will close out the conference with a half day of workshops Thursday afternoon and another half day of workshops on Friday morning.




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