Maine 200 safety guidelines could dramatically reduce workplace fatalities

To the editor:

I was saddened to read about the fatal railroad “accident” in Edmundston, New Brunswick, in this week’s edition of the St. John Valley Times and Fiddlehead Focus. My sincere condolences to his family and co-workers.

I spent nearly 24 years working for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here in the United States. During that time, I personally investigated, supervised the investigation of, or reviewed the investigative case file of over 1,500 workplace fatalities.

I participated in a number of statistical reviews of these fatalities, and helped to conceive, develop, and implement the Maine 200 program in the nineties. Google it.  This was a pilot program to try and get at the root causes of these so-called “accidents.”  The program was so successful that OSHA attempted to implement it nationally, but it was stopped in its tracks by a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  It soon died here in Maine. The most comprehensive statistical report on workplace fatalities that I participated in can be found at: https://www.osha.gov/dea/reports/logging/index.html

What I learned from these experiences caused me to change the way I thought about workplace “accidents.” I found that the vast majority, over 95 percent, were not accidents at all. They were incidents that were absolutely predictable and preventable. They all involved procedural errors or deficiencies. This is more easily described as a lack of or poorly implemented company safety program. Work rules addressing the hazard that caused the fatality were either not implemented, were not enforced, or were completely lacking.

I know practically nothing about CN or its safety program.  But if the information in the article is correct, one can infer some statistics that are pretty alarming. Using the number of fatalities and workers at CN Rail, one can calculate the fatality rate at CN.  It appears to be 42.5 deaths per 100,000 workers in the industry per year. The rate for railroads in the U.S. has hovered around 10 for several decades. By contrast, the fatality rate for the most dangerous occupation in the world — logging — has hovered around 40 deaths per 100,000 workers per year for decades.

Here in the U.S., over 6,000 workers are killed on the job every year. Even one is too many. But if the Comprehensive Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines that we used for the Maine 200 program were implemented nationally, that number could drop to fewer than 500 per year. See: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=federal_register&p_id=12909  

Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose.

Paul Cyr

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