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Illinois, Washington receive high marks for workplace safety

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Illinois ranked highest among U.S. states from a workplace safety perspective while Kansas ranked the lowest, according to a new report by the National Safety Council.

No state received an overall “A” grade for safety and only eight states received a “B” for overall safety, which was evaluated in three categories — road safety, home and community safety, and workplace safety — by the Itasca, Illinois-based organization.

Illinois and Washington were the only states that received “A” grades for workplace safety, with scores of 73% and 72%, respectively. But 29 states received a grade of “D” or “F,” with Kansas scoring the lowest at 19%, according to the report.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 4,836 workers died on the job in 2015, with more than 12,000 injured every day. Leading causes of worker injury include worker overexertion, slips, trips and falls, and incidents involving objects or equipment.

“We are nine times safer on the job than off the job, but in 2015 almost 5,000 workers were killed on the job,” Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the council, said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. “That is far too many. Regardless of how we earn our paycheck, the right to a safe workplace is something everyone deserves. While federal regulations provide a starting point, states can influence safer workplace policies. Most employers know to truly keep their employees safe, they must go beyond the bare minimum of requirements.”

Workplace safety was rated in the report based on leading indicators covering prevention, preparedness and enforcement, workers compensation, and worker health and wellbeing. This included whether states mandate drug and smoke-free workplaces and how they addressed workplace violence.

Illinois also ranked highest for road safety, with a 78% score, while Louisiana ranked second with a 76% score, according to the report. Montana was by far the lowest ranking state for road safety at 11%.

An estimated 40,200 people died on U.S. roads in 2016, making motor vehicle crashes the second leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, mostly due to distraction, speed and alcohol, according to the report.

Thomas Goeltz, vice president of risk management services for the Hays Companies of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told of how his daughter Megan and unborn grandson were killed by a distracted driver.

“This tragedy could have easily been prevented,” he said, pointing to all the drivers and pedestrians he has saw distracted on the way to the press event. “When are we going to wake up? When are we going to do something about it?”

The fatality rate on U.S. roads has risen about 15% over the past two years, Mr. Goeltz said.

“What we’re doing isn’t working people,” he said. “We need to do more. We need to make distracted driving socially unacceptable, just like we did with seatbelt use and with drunk driving.”

Employers have a role to play in curbing distracted driving, Mr. Goeltz said.

“We need businesses to step up to the plate,” he said. “A lot of them have established cellphone-free policies for their company cars and personal vehicles used on company business. We need all employers to do that. But it’s hard. A lot of companies don’t want to do that. They think they’re going to lose productivity and I can guarantee you, you won’t. Keeping your people alive is important.”

Employers in many industries focus on injury trends such as back strains and slips, trips and falls and don’t have workplace safety policies that incorporate distracted driving provisions.

“From a transportation safety standpoint, they may have only a few trucks and some personal vehicles and they’ve never had a claim,” he said. “They go ‘well, we don’t really need a fleet safety program.’ What I’ve seen over the years is that when they do have a claim, a lot of these are catastrophic and then they’re trying to back up and put together these programs. We’re trying to be proactive with these organizations, recognizing that even though you haven’t had a claim in this area, you still need a strong fleet transportation safety program to be in place to control your exposure.”

“You can be in maritime, construction, farming — a lot of the real hazardous industries — but the most hazardous thing we do every day is just driving,” he added.

Maryland ranked highest for safety in the home and community category with a 70% score, while Mississippi ranked the lowest with a 14% score, according to the report.

Addictions cost U.S. employers an estimated $400 billion a year, with 76% of people with drug and alcohol addictions currently employed.

“To combat our growing opioid epidemic, we need to get better education for doctors and improved access to treatment,” Ms. Hersman said.