, Heritage writer
June is National Safety Month, during which we are asked to pay particular attention to something that we usually don’t think about – our own personal safety and that of our loved ones. Yet reducing our risk for injury at work, on the roads, and in our homes and communities is as vital to our health as diet, exercise, and regular checkups.
Kaiser Permanente has a long history in working to protect its employees from harm and injury in the workplace, a commitment that goes back to the World War II home front. At precisely the same time that the conventional industrial workforce of healthy young men went off to fight, everyone else stepped up to produce the materials to arm the Arsenal of Democracy and win the war. Among these unsung heroes were the almost 200,000 people in the seven Kaiser shipyards. Most of them had never engaged in heavy industrial work before. They were housewives, farmers, the disabled, and those too old to serve in the military.
This January 14, 1944, article from the weekly Oregon Kaiser shipyard newspaper The Bos’n’s Whistle does a good job of explaining the challenges:
Safety pays dividends in shipbuilding production. That is apparent in the safety record of the three Kaiser yards during the past year. In all three yards, from superintendents to laborers, men and women showed more interest in observing safety rules. As a result, sizeable cuts were made in the two major causes of time loss injuries – handling tools or materials, and eye injuries- bring the total percentage of injuries in these two classifications down from 64 per cent to 53 per cent. National Safety Council figures show that, in terms of production, industry last year lost 380 million man days of work because of accidents. And the death rate on the war industry front is still four times higher than on the nation’s battlefronts. First Aid stations in the Vancouver and Swan Island yards treated a total of 704,435 cases during the year.
While hundreds of workers manage to stay on the job after an accident, their efficiency is impaired.
That steady progress is being made in the war on injuries is shown in the drop in accident insurance cost. At the start of the program, the cost was $3.75 per $100 of payroll, and the three yard average is now down to less than $1.00 per $100 payroll.
Before the war was over, the successful health plan for Kaiser shipyard workers was opened to the public. Today at Kaiser Permanente is a leader in occupational health as well as employee and patient safety. “Kaiser On-the-Job,” first started in the Northwest Region in 1991, incorporates prevention, case management, clinical protocols, and return to work programs with impressive results.
Safety still pays. Work safe, be safe.
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