Worker Safety - Projects & progress
Agency-wide program aims to modify employee safety behaviors
WSDOT's (including Washington State Ferries) agency-wide safety program is working to modify employee safety behaviors based on leading indicator strategies that show the effectiveness of safety activities and reveal potential problems in programs.
Leading indicators are proactive, preventative, and predictive measures that provide processes to identify, mitigate and control risks which have the potential to lead to on-the-job incidents. WSDOT monitors the performance outcomes of these indicators to assess its progress in changing safety culture agency-wide.
Safety culture and leading indicators continue to be a focal point in the safety program and are proving to be effective tools to reduce worker compensation claims. As WSDOT employees continue to embrace a safe work environment, they have fewer injuries and are more productive.
WSDOT continues to focus on hearing safety
In 2022, 13.8% of WSDOT's Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable claims were due to hearing loss. This was a 6.1% reduction in hearing loss claims as compared to 2021. The agency continues to use specialized equipment to test the effectiveness of employees' hearing protection devices in the field and has invested in equipment to monitor noise levels that some employees are exposed to while working. These efforts help ensure hearing protection used by WSDOT employees has the appropriate noise reduction rating.
Emphasis on hearing loss, sprains and strains
In 2021, 19.9% of WSDOT's OSHA recordable claims in 2021 were due to hearing loss. Because this was determined to be a recurring trend (with approximately 20-23% of annual OSHA recordable claims attributed to hearing loss), WSDOT is emphasizing hearing testing, fit testing of hearing protection devices, and education. This education includes being fully equipped to field test employees hearing protection devices and show them how to properly wear and/or insert these devices.
WSDOT's sprain and strain injuries are up as well, resulting in higher numbers of days away from work or restricted duty. In 2021, 32% of the OSHA recordable incidents were sprain and strain related, (not occurring in a fall or a vehicle incident). WSDOT's stretch and flex program is paramount in reducing these numbers.
When employees are not prepared to lift a heavy object, the potential for injury increases. While the stretch and flex program is not mandatory for all employees, it has been shown to decrease the number of injuries. In 2022, South Central Region put an even larger emphasis on the program, making it an expectation for employees to participate in the program daily. WSDOT's Safety Division will be monitoring this effort to determine whether it is effectively reducing the number of these injuries regionwide and will then determine if this approach can be utilized in the other regions.
WSDOT looks to address third-party vehicle incidents
Third-party vehicle incidents—in which state vehicles were struck by other drivers—accounted for 15% of WSDOT's OSHA recordable incidents in 2021. Employees involved in these incidents are typically on restricted duty or away from work longer than from other incidents.
WSDOT found that inattentiveness and driving under the influence were the major contributors to these third-party incidents, and as a result is beta testing traffic control devices that transmit data to the public's navigation systems. This is expected to help reduce these types of incidents.
WSDOT working to shift employees' safety mindset
While there is no one thing driving WSDOT's OSHA recordable numbers up, the agency is doing its best to keep up with the incidents and develop ways to prevent/reduce them from occurring in the future. In the regions, WSDOT has an average of one safety professional per 230 employees, making it improbable for them to handle work areas that can be hundreds of miles apart.
This makes it imperative that employees change the way they think of safety. WSDOT is working to shift employees' mindset to ensure they want to work safely and develop better ways to do the work of the state while maintaining that level of safety for themselves and for each employee working with them.
WSF takes extra safety steps during pandemic
Washington State Ferries employees on vessels and at terminals experience a fairly high exposure to the public, something which adds risk during the COVID-19
Between 2016 and 2020, the agency-wide RIR improved by about 4.3%, while the DART rate worsened by 22.7% (percentage increases and decreases are based on rates being rounded to the nearest 10th).
WSF responded by making changes to better protect both its employees in these positions as well as the traveling public who rely on ferries.
To reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, Washington State Ferries:
- Implemented an innovative approach to deliver hearing conservation counseling electronically instead of in-person. This led to a 700% increase in throughput for employees who were able to use the counseling compared to those who could be assisted prior to the pandemic. Hearing conservation counseling is a mitigation effort to initiate protective follow-up measures aimed at avoiding severe or permanent hearing loss.
- Applied new protocols to protect against COVID-19, including improvements to the annual fit-testing requirement for employees who wear filtering facepiece respirators for high and extremely high-risk tasks to protect themselves. In addition to successfully fit testing all new employees in 2020, WSF sourced approved disinfectants, fabricated plexiglass barriers, and implemented new fit testing policies aboard the M/V Elwha.
- Restarted an approach in which gas meter replacements are mailed directly to the engine rooms on vessels using interoffice mail. This method reduced contact between engine room staff and outside persons and as well as the possibility of viral transmission. At the same time, it also saved WSF travel time, and fuel compared to the previous method of hand delivering these meters to the boats directly.
- Developed multiple-phased plans for maintaining continuity of operations along with restarting work in areas that Gov. Jay Inslee paused or stopped due to the pandemic. In addition, WSF outlined key business functions, applied risk mitigation and infection control measures, developed workplace policies, established COVID-19 communication protocols, initiated training for employees to carry out essential workplace functions. WSF will also continuously assess workplace exposure risks.
- Led WSF's efforts to protect passengers during the pandemic by collaborating with multiple divisions to focus on mitigation strategies. WSF's adjusting operations prioritized customer safety and encouraged personal preparedness by providing personal protective equipment, increasing messaging and signage, using a vigorous sanitation and cleanliness protocol, and maintaining continuity of operations.
WSDOT as a whole continues to focus on safety improvement efforts like new signage, an updated hearing conservation program, more frequent communications about safety awareness, and stretch and flex exercising to reduce sprain and strain injuries.
Over the last five years, WSF has faced an increase in ridership coupled with an aging workforce. WSF attributes its rate increases to improvements in how it captures incidents, which are the result of training and awareness as well as proper reporting and documentation methods. WSDOT continues to focus on safety improvement efforts like training, engagement, safety meeting documentation, job shadowing, near miss reporting, and stretch and flex exercising to reduce sprain and strain injuries.