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July 2014

PS Asks

PS Asks: Lisa & Tom Reburn

PS: Which Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements are most important for SH&E professionals to understand?
Lisa/Tom: The most important thing to remember is that the ADA is civil rights legislation. It is about fully including everyone, including those with disabilities. If SH&E professionals can think from that perspective instead of only from the perspective of complying with long lists of mandated regulations, then a safe and inclusive environment for those with disabilities will be much easier to provide. Places of public accommodation have four specific requirements under ADA:

  • Remove barriers.
  • Provide auxiliary aids and services to facilitate effective communication.
  • Modify policies, practices and procedures that may be discriminatory.
  • Ensure that no unnecessary eligibility criteria exist that screen out those with disabilities.

The safety professional’s position is one of the few positions in any organization that has access to and generally travels to all facilities. This puts the safety professional in a unique position to have a significant effect on ADA compliance. The 2010 ADA standards (Titles I and III) are tools to help the SH&E professional provide equal access. The specific requirements that must be understood will vary and depend on the situation being addressed.

Understanding how to proactively provide accessible facilities, policies and presentations takes a continued focus on the importance of providing an inclusive work environment. ADA and universal design training for SH&E professionals are key to becoming comfortable with the requirements and their application.

PS: How can SH&E professionals balance the safety of an employee who is a qualified individual with disabilities under ADA with the safety of coworkers?
Lisa/Tom: Safety professionals have a general duty to ensure safety for both the employee with a disability and the employee’s coworkers. Individuals with disabilities must be "otherwise qualified" for any position they hold and must be able to perform the essential functions of a job (with or without an accommodation). An employee with a disability must meet the same performance and conduct standards as all other employees. Providing access or an accommodation for someone with a disability should never compromise others’ safety. "Reasonable accommodations" are the result of an interactive process between employer and employee, and must be made to allow someone with a disability the opportunity to perform a job that s/he is otherwise qualified for, but an accommodation that puts others at risk would never be considered reasonable.
Emergency action plans are of interest in this area and should include procedures to ensure that employees with disabilities are accommodated without putting other employees at an increased risk of injury in the case of an emergency.

PS: What challenges might SH&E professionals working in the oil and gas industry face when ensuring ADA compliance?
Lisa/Tom: Safety professionals have responsibilities both onshore and offshore. Many challenges are unique to the oil and gas industry. To make a comparison, an oil and gas safety professional might have hundreds or even thousands of oil and gas wells, compressor stations and tank batteries, while a manufacturing plant safety professional might have one plant. The multitude and variability of oil and gas facilities that safety professionals work with can be challenging with respect to ADA.

ADA issues are varied and complex. Case law and civil rights proponents drive awareness that liability exists, but specific compliance training is not always readily available. Often, someone is given this responsibility without specific training to accomplish a truly safe, accessible and inclusive work environment. Sometimes, a certain level of unwarranted fear about what is required can be the result of a lack of information and can be alleviated with training.

PS: What must SH&E professionals understand about making facilities accessible?
Lisa/Tom: New construction and alterations have the highest standard and must be compliant with the 2010 ADA standards. Existing buildings are tricky. Businesses are required to remove barriers that are "readily achievable." That would primarily include barriers in physical buildings, parking facilities, routes from parking facilities to physical buildings and restrooms.

SH&E professionals are in a unique position to spot various ADA violations that can lead to unsafe environments because of their general ability to travel to many facilities in the course of doing their job. Recognition of the top ADA facility violations would give them a working knowledge to make environments safer and more accessible. SH&E professionals’ ability to prevent injuries and to have a significant impact on the workforce would be enhanced through use of this knowledge (as removing accessibility barriers is good for those without disabilities as well as for those with disabilities).

SH&E professionals should know how to conduct an ADA assessment on a building to identify barriers and also how to develop a transition plan to remove barriers.

PS: What key components should SH&E professionals include when developing a workplace violence policy?
Tom: The phrase workplace violence did not appear until the late 1980s. When I first started in safety, workplace violence was not on the radar, but now many excellent resources are available. They exist because homicide is a leading cause of occupational fatalities, and workplace violence is a hazard that can be prevented, just like many others.

Recognition is the key when it comes to workplace violence prevention, and in most cases, you can see workplace violence coming. My favorite quote regarding workplace violence comes from the Center for Personal Protection and Safety (CPPS): "The path toward violence is an evolutionary one with signposts along the way."

Training is a key component of an effective workplace violence policy. Employees should be trained on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of workplace violence and that all threats of violence must be taken seriously and reported. A key component of a workplace violence policy for any company should be a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees.

Ensuring a multidisciplinary approach to workplace violence is another key component. Representatives from several functional areas of an organization, such as safety, human resources, security, legal and operations, should be included on a threat management/assessment team. The team should assess the threats of violence and should determine what action to take to prevent the threat from being carried out. A comprehensive workplace violence procedure should also include emergency procedures for employees to follow in the event of a workplace violence incident.

PS: How prevalent is violence in the oil and gas industry?
Tom: According to OSHA, nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year and many more cases go unreported. Workplace violence can strike anywhere, anytime and no industry or company is immune. Most serious injuries and fatalities in the oil and gas industry result from low-frequency/high-consequence hazards. Workplace violence is a low-frequency/high-consequence hazard. Society for Human Resource Management’s 2012 Workplace Violence Survey found that more than one-third (36%) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence.

PS: How many fatalities in the oil and gas industry are attributed to workplace violence?
Tom: BLS released its preliminary Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Fatal injuries in the oil and gas extraction industry rose 23%. Although it is unclear how many oil and gas injuries may be attributed to workplace violence, 17% of all workplace fatalities involved violence. In all industries, 375 workers were killed in shootings while on the job in 2012. Robbers were the assailants in 33% of the workplace homicides involving shootings in 2012, while coworkers accounted for 13%. In 2012, two incidents occurred where at least five people were killed in workplace shootings; a total of 12 workers died in these two incidents. From 1992 to 2012, 140 government workers were shot and killed by a coworker while on the job.

The top three leading causes of death in the oil and gas industry are highway and motor vehicle incidents, workers being struck by tools and equipment, and fires and explosions. Many serious injuries and near misses occur in the oil and gas industry due to workplace violence.

PS: In the oil and gas industry, is it difficult to promote awareness of or enforce workplace violence policies when workers are both onshore and offshore?
Tom: I have worked both onshore and offshore, and whether onshore or offshore, I believe the safety professional is in the best and most effective position to maintain awareness of workplace violence policies. As noted, a zero-tolerance policy with respect to workplace violence is paramount.

PS: What are some common myths about workplace violence?
Tom: According to CPPS, the most common myths are:

  • "It just happened out of the blue."
  • "That person just snapped."
  • "If left alone, events will resolve themselves."
  • "Employees cannot do anything to stop it."
  • "It could not happen here."

The reality is that threats are almost always present:

  • "Leakage and warnings made through comments (intentional or unintentional) can reveal clues to feeling, thoughts, fantasies or intentions that may result in violence."
  • "Erratic/abnormal behavior is a principal warning sign of future violence."
  • "Bullying is often a stepping stone to violence."
  • "The path toward violence is an evolutionary one with signpost along the way."

Oil and gas safety professionals address many hazards, including those presented by vehicles, chemicals, electricity, hydrocarbons and heavy equipment. Workplace violence is another significant hazard that must be recognized and prevented.

Lisa Reburn has more than 25 years’ experience teaching in the field of special education. She is the project director and ADA coordinator for e-Learning and Professional Studies at University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB). She also assists with distance-learning-related issues. Reburn holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Special Education.

Tom Reburn, CSP, has 25 years’ safety experience and has been the manager of safety for Energen since 1997. He is also a credentialed course instructor in the e-Learning and Professional Studies Department at UAB. He is the 2012-13 ASSE Alabama Chapter Safety Professional of the Year. Reburn holds a B.S. in Geology and an M.S. in Advanced Safety Engineering and Management, both from UAB.

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