Addressing Safety Strategies Across Generations

AMT's Interview with Kimberly-Clark Professional

In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) were created. Today, almost four decades after the implementation of the OSHA Act, a safe place to work is a requirement and an expectation. Yet, each year we still have an incredible number of workplace injuries and deaths. The numbers have been trending down but are still unacceptable. What is not understood is why worker fatalities are so high and why workers continue to injure themselves?

In Workplace Safety, James T. Burnette writes that several behavioral theories suggest that workers “may not care about the consequences; they could misperceive the risks or the consequences; or they might intentionally sabotage the safety policies and procedures.” Within any discussion of workplace safety, it’s important to consider the implications that generational shifts are having on the number and type of work-related injuries, as well as attitudes, work practices, and performance.


Kimberly-Clark Professional safety survey

In 2012, Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) conducted a survey of safety professionals to better understand the complicated issue of workplace injuries. Of those surveyed, “82 percent of the safety professionals said they had observed workers in their organizations failing to wear required personal protection equipment (PPE) during the past year. Even though it is mandated by OSHA, the vast majority of workers who have experienced on-the-job injuries were not wearing PPE.”

Some of the reasons respondents cited for not wearing their PPE were: “uncomfortable, too hot, blamed for decreased productivity or an inability to perform tasks, unavailable near the work task, ill-fitting, and unattractive looking.”

For further insight on workplace accidents and prevention, Aircraft Maintenance Technology Magazine reached out to safety expert Randy DeVaul, senior capability development manager, Global Industrial Safety for KCP. DeVaul has a doctorate in occupational safety and health, a master’s degree in cross-cultural studies, is a commercial pilot ground instructor, and holds Commercial/Instrument Pilot, Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) mechanic, and multi-engine ratings.

AMT: Randy, thank you for taking time to help us better understand the complicated issue of workplace safety and some of the human factors that drive incidents. You have suggested that we need to consider the ages and attitudes of two key groups of workers. In so doing, safety professionals, company managers, and employee work groups can develop better safety solutions, resulting in higher acceptance and reduced risk or injury.

The work groups are: Generation Y (Gen Y) — defined as ages 15 to 30 years — which represent 14 percent of the U.S. labor force and are a high risk for workplace injuries; and Baby Boomers — defined as ages 49 to 67 years. Fatal work injury rates for workers 65 years of age and older was more than three times the rate for all workers.

AMT: What are the main challenges that the aviation industry is facing in terms of these generational differences?

Randy DeVaul: Many Baby Boomer aviation workers are able to retire but don’t necessarily want to retire. Those employees are working longer because they enjoy what they do or they have postponed retirement for various economic reasons. One in five people in the workplace are over the age of 55. By 2016, one-third of the total U.S. work force will be age 50 or older, and the number of those workers will increase to 115 million by 2020.

Another factor is that many manufacturing jobs have moved out of the U.S., limiting the opportunity for Gen Y to develop an interest in, or work in, manufacturing or other heavy industries. Therefore, we have an aging work force that isn’t wholly retiring and a skilled labor gap. In the aviation industry, this is creating challenges related to general safety, airplane safety, and worker quality of life.

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