There’s no question the railway that hired train operator William Rockefeller is wishing it had taken steps to prevent the December 2013 New York City train crash in which his undiagnosed sleep disorder was found to be a major contributing factor. Four passengers were killed, more than 60 were injured, and the damage was immense. Beyond the preventable great human tragedy that unfolded, the identification of all those responsible, legal liabilities, monetary damages, and other related costs are yet to be determined.
Less than a week after the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released its findings, the union representing Metro-North’s train engineers is working with the railway to establish a program that would help diagnose those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Screening may be extended to all safety sensitive personnel.
It is unfortunate that it took a major impact on lives to steer the railway down a preventative path, but this is not uncommon. Many employers tend to exercise complacency when it comes to health and safety risks, assuming that if it isn’t regulated, it isn’t worth addressing. This is one of three dangerous attitudes that can lead to workplace injuries:
1. “My workplace is safe. We use common sense.”
The so-called ‘common sense’ approach to safety sensitive work, which overlooks the need for formal health and safety training or medical testing to mitigate health and safety hazards, is risky. For example, sleep apnea testing isn’t regulated in the U.S. or in Canada, but that doesn’t mean a sleep apnea problem doesn’t exist. In fact, a 2009 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that over one in four Canadian adults (26%) are at a high risk of having sleep apnea. If any of these respondents are in safety sensitive positions, they could be putting themselves, their co-workers, and the public in danger. Sleep apnea testing can ensure these individuals are identified, treated and safely returned to work.
2. “Ignorance is bliss. What I don’t know can’t hurt me.”
The belief that if you don’t look for any health and safety regulations that affect your industry or your workplace, you don’t have to comply with those rules, is a dangerous attitude that could lead to unnecessary injuries and illnesses and unnecessary costs and fines for your company. Occupational health and safety regulations (and any other safety-related regulations) are established to protect workers and their employers, as well as the public and the environment. Anyone and any business has an obligation to seek out applicable legislation that impacts the workplace at all levels – federal, provincial, and municipal – and compliance will improve worker health and safety, productivity, and your corporate image.
3. “There is no benefit to investing in health and safety.”
The benefits of investing in health and safety are well established. An article published in Canadian Occupational Health and Safety just this week highlighted a Nova Scotia-based company that saw lost-time injury claims cut by 50 percent after putting a bigger focus on safety. Not making the investment could open your company up to preventable workplace incidents, injuries and illnesses, and increased workers’ compensation costs.
If you have any questions about how to improve health and safety in the workplace and what medical testing and/or assessments may be required or recommended for your safety sensitive work environment, feel free to get in touch! You can reach out to us here or on Twitter @DriverCheckCA.