Struck-by incidents are a common workplace hazard in bustling industries. Where there is moving machinery, whirling equipment, or turning wheels, employees are at risk of being struck. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), there were 750 fatalities from struck-by incidents in the workplace. Work comp data reveals it is one of the top ways to be injured on the job. What can employers do to reduce this kind of exposure and keep employees safe?
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Terry Dussault. He is an environmental health and safety professional and the founder of Yellowknife Consulting Services. With more than 25 years of experience, Dussault specializes in preparing and implementing safety training.
First, we’ll talk about what a struck-by incident can look like in the workplace. Then, we’ll share why personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential. Finally, we’ll discuss what employers can do to reduce their exposure.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
The anatomy of a struck-by incident
Struck-by injuries take up a wide spectrum. Employees are struck on the job by things as serious as moving vehicles and as simple as wood chips blowing around the work floor. “There’s just so many variations of how somebody can get hurt,” Dussault explained. For example, he was part of a project where a worker was struck in the knee with a forklift, resulting in a life-changing injury. In another incident, someone was struck in the ribs.
Dussault also points to smaller incidents employers often overlook. On an active job site, airborne particles like gravel and sand fly around. In other industries, like road work, flying debris thrown by cars presents a danger. Even a tool falling from height can become a serious weapon when falling from height. Incidents like this are hard to predict. In public work spaces, employers simply have less control over the environment.
Little warning presents big risks
Struck-by incidents happen with little to no warning. It makes personal protective equipment (PPE) an essential first line of defense against injury. Dussault recalls working on a job site at a gas station. Although wearing the required PPE, he slipped off his hard hat during a lunch break. On his way to grab a paper towel from the site, a bird flew down and struck him in the head. The following week, a large piece of plexiglass struck him again at different job site – this time with his hard hat on.
The importance of personal protective equipment (PPE)
While birds aren’t liable to be a problem on every job site, Dussault considers the lesson it taught him. Both incidents happened in the blink of an eye. The bird didn’t injure him; the plexiglass sheet could have killed him. He couldn’t control the bird or the plexiglass – only whether or not he had his hard hat on. PPE helps offer protection and account for a lack of reaction time.
Reducing struck-by exposure in your workplace
Every industry has machines, equipment, and other elements that have the potential to strike employees. “When you’re out on the job site, your level of awareness has to be extremely high around equipment,” Dussault explained. “Part of the reason is because the equipment moves very fast. It’s surprising how fast some of the large equipment can move. If a person is not paying attention or they turn their back to the equipment, it only takes a split second and they don’t have time to move out of the way.”
Assess each role for struck-by potential
It’s important for employers to look carefully at each role. What is the likelihood an employee could be struck? A company policy or procedure requiring it helps with enforcement. “If the company doesn’t take safety seriously, then workers will tend to deviate from the policies,” he pointed out. They may become complacent, or abandon wearing their gear altogether.
An incident costs a company more than just money. Their reputation suffers – and their ability to maintain a competitive edge. It may result in reduced ability to offer promotions, bonuses, and other incentives. “We all pay the price for that, not just the company,” Dussault shared. “But if you’re an employee you’re paying the price of that as well, because of lost opportunity.”
Check in with off-site employees
For employers who travel with their teams daily, it can be difficult to control unknown work environments. In these situations, Dussault points to two essential tasks employers and managers need to do on the job site: have safety meetings and check in with employees.
A safety meeting ensures that everyone knows any required processes or procedures and what hazards are present. Checking in with employees helps them remain plugged into the work. “It’s really important to make sure that the awareness level is high, people are engaged,” Dussault added. “It’s good to just pick up the phone and say ‘Hey, what are you working on right now?’ and ‘How can you get hurt doing that task?’ and see what kind of information they give you.”
Audit your business for struck-by risk
Preparation is an essential way to reduce risk level and eliminate hazards. “I highly encourage employers to do self-audits or evaluations,” Dussault finished. This ensures that there’s awareness around danger and a safe work standard is set within the business. These evaluations often go by different names. For example, a job safety analysis or activity hazard analysis. But they all represent the same thing: an employer’s commitment to safety.