Illinois State employees at July’s safety roundtable discussion.

Over the past 10 years, Illinois State University has gradually reduced its employee injury rate by 80 percent.

As indicated in the graph below, Illinois State’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Recordable Incident rate was at a high of 6.4 in calendar year 2000. As of 2012, this rate has dropped to 1.2. Furthermore, when compared to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois State’s incident rate dipped below the national average for the category of Colleges and Universities for the first time in recorded history in 2011.*

OSHA injury rates graph

Although Illinois State maintained records of injuries to its employees, University incident rates were first compiled beginning in 1998.

Incident rate calculations are used to compare injury and illness experience of a particular employer or industry to the national average. The incident rate is a calculation based on the number of OSHA recordable injuries and illnesses (basically, those injuries and illnesses warranting treatment beyond first aid) per 100 full-time workers. Thus, a rate of 5, for example, indicates that on average, 5 employees out of 100 full-time employees were injured and required treatment from a medical facility during a given year.

What has been responsible for the significant decline in the rate? Approximately 75 percent of the work place injuries and illnesses reported occur with employees from Facilities Management, the Office of Energy Management, and Campus Dining, primarily due to size of the departments and the manual labor involved in the employees’ work duties.

Employees at the safety roundtable

Employees at the safety roundtable in July.

A roundtable comprised of a cross section of representatives from Facilities Management, the Office of Energy Management, and Campus Dining met July 24 to discuss their impressions of what has been responsible for the reduction in the injury/illness rate. Included in the discussion were:

— Office of Energy Management: Chris Homan, Julie Stanley, and Richard Marr.
— Facilities Management: James Kozak, Margaret Schmid, Michael Elliot, Robert Bowald, and Ronald Terven.
— Campus Dining Services: Becky Meier, Dan Livers, Jim Wall, Mary Anderson and Rodney Hicks.

The following themes emerged from the discussion, all of which were considered as having impacts to varying degrees on the reduction in the number of injuries over the past decade. Overall, however, attendees agreed the improvements over the last 10 years are attributed to a cooperative effort involving individuals throughout the University and their interests in ensuring a safe working environment.


Safer work areas

Employees started reporting unsafe work conditions in the workplace, e.g. missing guardrails, inadequate work platforms, and other fall protection hazards to which they were exposed during the course of their work. Other unsafe working conditions, such as slippery floors and walkways, trip hazards, “head knockers,” leaky roofs, etc., were also reported for consideration.

Over the past 10 years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on upgrading work areas to install or repair work platforms and/or guardrails; installation of engineered fall protection anchor points to which personnel can tie-off where platforms are infeasible; improved walking surfaces in kitchens of dining centers to avert slips and falls; purchase of various types of lifts that would elevate workers to overhead areas without the need for working off ladders or climbing over equipment, etc.

Greater focus on safety by supervision, workforce, and management

Attendees agreed that the stark improvement over the last 10 years was a collaborative effort:

Greater-Focus-leftManagers and supervisors have taken a proactive approach to safety. Supervisors include specific safety instructions when handing out work orders. Further, supervisors have listened to employees who expressed safety concerns and taken appropriate action to address those concerns. Compliance with procedures and requirements and working safely has become an expectation.

Employees have taken on a more personal approach to safety, and a sense of teamwork has developed where trades work together to maximize safety and prevent injuries wherever feasible. Self-policing has begun to replace the more conventional practice of “supervisory enforcement” of safety rules.

Greater-Focus-rightDepartmental safety committees have been revitalized and are empowered to take responsible measures to reduce injuries.

A much greater emphasis on safety and health training has taken place over the last 10 years. Employees with high turnover, e.g. student workers for Campus Dining, are assigned jobs with limited amount of risk, minimizing the need for extensive training.

Development of an Environmental Health and Safety Officer assigned to Facilities Management to lead/support the safety effort. (First initiated in 1999 and staffed by George Redell for the past nine years.)

Better equipment and safer materials

Attendees identified that better equipment and safer materials demonstrate a commitment to safety and that Facilities Management has done a good job maintaining a stock of safety equipment for its employees.

— Heavy moving aids, e.g. pallet jacks, designed to move table carts and trash compactor bins.
— Personal protective equipment (Safety glasses, hearing protection, etc.) in a wide range of sizes and variety.
— No-slip booties for working on slick work surfaces, e.g. kitchen floors; safer tools, such as ergonomically engineered hand tools; and tools/equipment with better guards and safer functionality.
— Cleaning supplies with less health hazards associated with their use, e.g. green products, water based paints, no-touch chemical containers designed to prevent contact with the product, etc.
— Use of cell phones versus pagers.

More visible promotion of safety across campus

Attendees noted that visual safety promotions in the workplace help remind employees on a daily basis that safety is important and to make the right decisions associated with safe work practices.

— More safety signage in the workplace
— Handouts or “how-to” manuals in convenient locations
— Easy access to Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) files (paper and online)
— Easy access to First Aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

As with most successful initiatives, there are many reasons for the level of success achieved.

“I am very pleased and proud of the efforts of all who contributed to the accomplishment of this remarkable achievement,” said Dan Layzell, vice president for Finance and Planning. “These numbers represent a dramatic improvement in workplace safety for all of our employees over the past 10 years—something we can and should all celebrate. Our ultimate goal, of course, is an injury-free workplace and we are making great strides toward that goal.”

* North American Industry Classification System (NAICS code 6113)