The Scarier Jobs Data

Will they or won’t they? That’s the question running through the minds of everyone in the global financial markets as they await the December 15th -16th meeting of the US Federal Reserve and its decision about raising interest rates.

Unlike her predecessors, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellin has been crystal clear about the economic conditions that must be met before she and her colleagues pull the interest rate trigger: the economy and labor markets must be strong. While the economic recovery could be more robust, the employment picture does seem to be improving.

The unemployment rate is now down to a post-financial crisis, seven-year low of 5.1%, and the issue of jobs and employment numbers is a topic of national debate. The public is obsessed with the issue, and Republican and Democratic presidential candidates alike will spend billions of dollars over the next year on print, television and Internet ads in efforts persuade voters that their economic vision is the best one to put more Americans back to work.

But while everyone is focused on job numbers, there’s one gigantic job-related number that no one seems to be noticing: workplace fatalities. Yes, the unemployment rate — thankfully — has fallen to its lowest level since 2007, but at the same time, the number of people who have died in job-related accidents has been soaring.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers who died in such accidents rose last year to 4,679, the highest number since the 5,214 who died in 2008. The numbers are shocking.

It’s not easy to find an explanation for the increase. To be sure, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates the workplace, requires companies to invest heavily in workplace safety training. Obviously, more must be done to protect workers. I believe that lowering the number of worker fatalities will involve all of us making the issue a priority and taking steps — small, large, commonsensical and creative — to make the workplace safer.

As a technology company that markets product to the commercial HVAC services sector, here are some of the steps Augury is taking that we hope will make the workplace safer for our HVAC technician customers:

1) Discouraging distracted driving.

You may wonder what driving has to do with workplace accidents. But as the Internet of Things expands, the workplace has expanded to include mobile devices. Shockingly, 14% of all automotive fatalities in the U.S. are due cell phone distractions. While use of hand-held devices while driving is banned in 13 states and the District of Columbia, we all know the temptation to check in while at the wheel. Augury’s technology is used in conjunction with handheld devices, and regardless of whether our users are in states with a hand-held ban, we constantly remind them not to use our app when driving. Constantly reminding users of the dangers of using devices while driving is simple and, hopefully, effective.

2) Reducing slips and falls

Falls, trips and slips accounted for close to one fifth of all fatalities in the workplace. In 2014, there were 647 falls to lower levels that resulted in fatalities. Our technicians routinely inspect equipment in hard to reach places that are high off the floor. Cooling towers located on the rooftops of buildings often require ladders for special access, and we want our techs to be able to use their hands for extra support, not to carry our device. To accomplish this, we spent hundreds of hours designing a carrying case for our handheld device. The case allows users to wear the device across their chests; it keeps their hands free. We also made the carrying case with quick release straps, so if our technicians somehow get caught in something, they can free themselves quickly.

3) Providing clear instructions

Safety communication does no good if the intended recipients don’t understand what you’re talking about. So to transmit our safety ideas, we provide not only written but pictorial instructions (below) on how to wear the carrying case. For many workers, English is not a first language, so simpler is better. And since one picture is worth…… we try to make the message as clear and as easy to understand as possible.

At Augury, we believe that keeping our customers and partners safe goes beyond economics. Sure, safety is central to our success as a company, but it’s also a moral responsibility. We want to see the number of HVAC technicians using our device go up — and we will do our best to make sure they do so safely and responsibly.

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