SAFETY CORNER: New Initiatives to Improve Workplace Safety

Scotty MacNeill  •

The National Safety Committee attended two conferences this fall and came away with important information to share.

In October, I represented the UWUA at the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Safety Congress & Expo. The NSC is an organization focused on eliminating the leading causes of preventable workplace injury and death.

The NSC recently launched an initiative called ‘Respond Ready Workplace’ to address the growing number of deaths from drug overdoses, particularly opioids. Overdose deaths totaled 464 in 2021, equivalent to nearly 9% of all occupational deaths that year and are up 536% since 2011. Increases have been experienced among all employee demographics, industries, and occupations. Utility workers are not immune to these trends and can be vulnerable to opioid overdose due to a variety of factors, including workplace injuries, chronic pain, or other health issues.

NSC emphasized that employers should first and foremost be focused on prevention by prioritizing safety measures to reduce workplace injuries that could lead to pain and the need for pain killers such as opioids. Implementing effective injury prevention programs, and in cases of injury exploring alternative pain management options such as non-opioid treatments, can help mitigate the need for opioids.

Employers also should be providing education and training programs to raise awareness about the risks of opioid use and overdose. Training should cover recognizing the signs of overdose, administering naloxone, and providing immediate assistance until medical help arrives.

NSC’s Respond Ready Workplace initiative aims to reduce workplace overdose deaths by making naloxone (commonly known by its tradename Narcan) available in workplaces, along with providing related training and support resources.

The UWUA safety team at the iP Conference: Dennis Hyek, II, MSUWC; Les Wutka, Sr., UWUA Region IV National Representative; Dean Wymer, Local 335; Brian Hannon, Local 369, National Safety Committee Electric Subcommittee Chair; Will Breton, MSUWC, National Safety Committee Gas Subcommittee Chair; Scotty MacNeill; Dan Nickerbocker, MSUWC; and David “JR” Scott, Local 335 Vice President.

Recent FDA approval of naloxone nasal sprays for over-the-counter use gives your workplace a new lifesaving tool to prevent death from opioid overdose. Narcan can temporarily stop many of the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. NSC encourages including Narcan in your workplace first aid kit or elsewhere onsite and training employees to use it. Having easy access to Narcan and knowing how to administer it are critical components of emergency response to help save a life.

iP Utility Safety Conference

In November, several members of the National Safety Committee joined me at the iP (Incident Prevention) Utility Safety Conference & Expo, a gathering of top safety and operations experts from around the United States and Canada.

While there, we advocated to make the Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP) credential available to water industry workers. We convened a meeting between the UWUA, American Water management subject matter experts, and the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network (USOLN), the credentialling agency, and made significant headway toward this goal. CUSP certification is already available to members working in gas and electric; it’s long overdue for our water members. Enabling water workers to achieve CUSP certification has the potential to improve safety practices, protect workers, and benefit communities by promoting a culture of safety within the water utility industry.

Dennis Hyek leading the trench rescue workshop.

In addition, Michigan State Utility Worker Council Safety Representatives Will Breton and Dennis Hyek led a workshop on how to respond to trench accidents and perform trench rescues. They put particular focus on teaching how to clearly convey information and talk to a 911 operator in a way that generates fast action and puts workers in the best position to receive rescue from the experts. This training, developed by Local 254 members Brian Carbary and Brandon Martiniuk (see Oct-Nov-Dec 2022 issue of The Utility Worker), was highly praised by conference participants from all over the country.