Turbine Manufacturers Should Rethink Their Workplace Safety Programs

Turbine_Blog_Image2Manufacturers of turbines and turbine generators (NAICS 333611) employed 29,184 workers across 331 establishments in 2012. Average wages were a relatively high $85,450 per year compared to the U.S. average of $49,200.

2012 TRIR and DART rates of 3.1 and 1.5 per 100 workers, respectively, put the sector just below U.S. private industry averages of 3.4 and 1.8. Nearly all lost-time injuries reported that year were to male workers with at least one year on the job.

Most common were sprains, strains and tears of backs from overexertion, falling and “struck by” while handling parts and materials. At an average (direct and indirect) of approximately $76,000, those 210 injuries cost the industry $16 million.

Time lost from injuries was much higher than the U.S. norm, with 43% out for 31 or more days. No fatal injuries were reported for 2012.

OSHA inspections of this sector have trended sharply downward since 2008 with over half (54%) of the 125 conducted driven by employee complaints and accident investigations.

OSHA penalties are so far relatively painless for turbine manufacturers. Fed-OSHA issued two citations (PPE and Machine Guarding) from one of seven inspections in 2013, collecting $5,625 in penalties ($2,813 average) — well above the U.S. average of $1,544 per citation that year. State OSHA programs, despite issuing many more citations in 2013, collected much lower average penalties: Iowa issued seven citations (average $1,107); Michigan nine (average $1,111); Minnesota one ($630) and North Carolina six ($0).

On their own, infrequent inspections and low average penalties will not raise alarms in this or any other industry. However, the chronically high proportion of complaints and accident investigations in this industry should be a warning for turbine manufacturers to evaluate their work practices and safety culture. Whistleblower cases that result in headlines and much higher penalties often start with workers who feel they have no other source of relief, and these types of inspections are strong indicators of such conditions.

Measure what matters. Begin with a focus on leading indicators and early intervention through job hazard analysis and reporting of observations and near misses. This is how you identify, quantify and resolve your risks. Safety culture pays for itself and is far better for business than adversarial encounters with OSHA.