Slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of injuries in the intermodal industry. And while it’s impossible to 100% eliminate workplace accidents, there are steps that can be taken to reduce them.
Part of the challenge, however, can be making sure that workers don’t become complacent when it comes to workplace safety. And in addition to vigilance, experts say, other tips include ensuring that workers are wearing proper footwear; avoiding distractions on the job; situational awareness at second- and third-party work locations; and taking steps to control specific safety hazards.
"As with any safety initiative effectively communicating the seriousness of the hazard (is key)," Gene Coker, the manager of safety and MTSA compliance with the South Carolina State Ports Authority said, adding that after time, workers can sometimes become desensitized to company messaging about safety.
"The challenge is finding new creative ways to make it relevant and top of the employees’ daily safety awareness," he said. "One way that we have implemented is digital media. We have monitors strategically placed throughout our facilities that constantly display safety and health bulletins."
Another solution in helping to reduce the probability of employees slipping is providing them with slip resistant work shoes, Coker and other experts say.
"Our heavy lift mechanics and operators are exposed to walking/working surfaces often covered in hydraulic oil and grease," Coker explained. "We have done this (providing of footwear) for many years for our employees, which has resulted in a lower slips incident rate."
Alan Tyson, an expedited service manager with C&K Trucking agreed that shoes can make a difference. He specifically mentioned Shoes for Crews, a footwear store that stocks a variety of slip-resistant shoes and boots for men and women.
"Shoes for Crews is a great program, as proper footwear can make or break a driver," he said. "Having the proper safety gear will go a long way in the right direction to keeping drivers safe."
Steve Allen, a field safety senior manager with CN, said that control of slips, trips and falls begins with personal protective equipment, such as proper footwear, and the recognition of potential uneven ground conditions.
"All CN intermodal terminal operations require personnel to wear safety footwear, at a sufficient height to cover the ankle and to be laced to the top," he said.
Establishing and maintaining a good safety culture can present its share of challenges, some of which are unique to various transport modes. For those in the trucking industry, one of those challenges is having no control over work environments that they frequent outside their company’s offices.
"In most areas where drivers work, we don’t control the environment," Tyson explained.
"Truck stops, shippers/receivers, rail and port yards as well as rest areas, are all areas that are filled with danger for slips, trips and falls and we as truckers must rely on other people to make our drivers environment a safe one. The drivers have no control over these locations and must maneuver as safely as possible when on the ground and always be alert of their surroundings."
Another challenge, Coker said, is getting workers to stay fully aware when mobile devices could cause ones’ focus to be interrupted.
"We recently had an employee trip in our parking lot while walking from his machine and looking at his cell phone," he said. "Lesson learned: avoid distractions when walking (and maintain) situational awareness."
Allen said that keeping a tidy shop is significant when it comes to preventing accidents.
"Intermodal terminal operations are by design, large open real estate. Hazard recognition and control is a continuous process," he said. "Housekeeping is important not only in preventing slips, trips and falls, but as a good general indicator of a positive safety culture."
Tyson added that as temperatures begin to fall, the number of safety incidents in the trucking industry tends to rise.
"While it is hot outside right now, in less than 90 days or so we will be looking at cold and snow again, which can produce many of these incidents," he said. "Training, proper gear and knowing your surroundings go a long way in helping our driving professionals do what they do best, and that is driving, not recovering from injury."