Safety-First Approach Pays Dividends

Airport authority posts record-low injury rate in 2018, eyes further reduction in future

By Matt Neistein

Published May 20, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


An emphasis on safety in facilities that feature several industrial shops, a firefighting training facility and thousands of jets going 150 mph on the runways resulted in a record-low injury rate last year at the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

The ACAA notched a 2.50 Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable incident rate in 2018, compared with a 4.30 average for the aviation industry.

An OSHA recordable incident is any injury suffered on the job beyond the most minor bumps and cuts; the rate is calculated as the number of incidents per 100 full-time workers.

Officials credit the success to the development of a culture where safety is at the front of mind for everyone every day.

“I say, ‘Watch each other’s backs. I want to make sure you guys go home with your eyes, your ears, your nose, your hands … be able to walk out of here every day,’” said Dan McNamara, lead of leads, who oversees one of the skilled labor shops at PIT. “It’s important to the authority.”

In fact, the ACAA’s result topped the performance of U.S. private industry in 2017, the most recent year for which OSHA has complete statistics, which had a 2.8 rate.

“If you look at your Fortune 100, your Fortune 500, they just have too much capital deployed, whether it’s dollars, equipment or reputation, to be able to have less-than-stellar ambition around health and safety,” said Dr. David Wilbanks, assistant professor of occupational safety and health at Murray State University.

The ACAA’s 2018 injury rate was comparable with those of traditional Western Pennsylvania industries like iron and steel mills (2.3), aluminum production and processing (2.8) and coal mining (3.5) in 2017, according to OSHA.

The 2018 rate was the most recent benchmark in a years-long reduction in recordable injuries, about 66 percent better than the 7.30 rate in 2011. That trend is the result of intensive efforts to improve safety awareness across the ACAA, said Scot Ben, workplace safety manager at PIT.

“If there’s one thing I could pinpoint, it’s getting employees involved,” he said. “You have to get their feedback, you have to get their buy-in.”

That kind of grassroots approach is gaining steam across the safety industry, Wilbanks said.

“It’s recognized as the ideal path,” he said, emphasizing that employee involvement is a crucial factor that cuts across departments and disciplines.

And while the use of proper safety equipment and following standard safety procedures are key parts of the equation, nothing beats having workers looking out for each other, McNamara said. At PIT, safety is brought up every day at morning meetings, and Ben’s involvement is welcomed.

“We have a five- to 10-minute discussion each day on safety and different things that he gave to us,” McNamara said. “He also does come around and look at the jobsite, talks to the guys, makes sure everybody has their PPE (personal protective equipment) on. Any suggestions they have, he’s willing to take back to the committees.”

The authority also regularly consults with workplace safety experts and other outside sources to review procedures in a “constantly evolving” work environment, Ben said.

The low injury rate has an impact beyond the shops and offices of the ACAA, Ben said. In addition to making the authority a more appealing place to work for potential employees, it also lowers the airport’s insurance rates.

The insurance industry calculation of employee injury experience from the previous 3 years is called E-Mod. An E-Mod of 1.0 is the industry average benchmark. The ACAA’s E-Mod has been below 0.9 since 2011.

“I would estimate that our insurance premiums have gone down 30 to 35 percent over the last 10 years,” Ben said, noting that the state has certified the authority’s workplace safety committee since 2001, which also translates into a 5 percent reduction in worker’s compensation premiums.

The training and teamwork add up to a record-low injury rate that Ben would like to see fall further.

“I would hope it is not an anomaly,” he said. “I would hope it’s because of all the efforts we have made by educating people and getting them on board.”

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