The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigates chemical explosions.  However, while the CSB’s reports certainly help companies, workers and regulators improve safety performance, they also are a fine example of how agencies responsible for workplace safety could employ advanced technology to educate American workers about on-the-job risks and appropriate precautions.

Unlike any other government agency, the CSB is putting considerable resources into the professional production of comprehensive digital reports on serious chemical explosions. The result, so far, is more than 30 videos, most retelling a specific disaster. Combining music, news footage, surveillance camera tapes, re-enactments and animation with interviews of workers, investigators and the friends and relatives of victims, CSB creates reports that vividly explain “the anatomy” of chemical explosions while summarizing mistaken safety actions and recommending best practices. CSB’s focus is on the process of safety management, not individual hazards, an approach that should be more widely emulated.

Laborers should find relevance in the CSB’s assessments because many are employed at chemical facilities or energy plants doing “turn around” work during maintenance shutdowns. Laborers work under the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee (NMAPC) with companies who are members of The Association of Union Contractors (TAUC).

The CSB’s reports are a stunning revelation of how effective investigations and high-tech reporting can create compelling, motivational documentation of how safety disasters occur and, more importantly, how they can be prevented. [One shorter video, Death in the Oilfield, is linked here as a typical example.]

Fans of crime scene investigation – CSI – will appreciate the science, passion and call-it-like-it-is reporting that goes into each CSB video.  Chemical industry workers will find much in these videos from which to learn, but the videos should also be stimulating viewing for any worker or supervisor in any industry who is concerned about on-the-job safety.

More significantly, through their docudrama format, these videos show the potential of a well-designed, well-crafted media campaign to rouse interest and awareness of workplace hazards and the potential to curtail on-the-job deaths and injuries.

The tragedies that workers endure at work are as compelling as the other tragedies of contemporary life.  Because they usually occur in isolation, however, they do not invite substantial news coverage or after-the-fact analysis to promulgate insights and lessons.  The LHSFNA has long called on government agencies to devote more resources to broaden public awareness campaigns.  These CSB videos show the way and display a glimmer of the potential to make workplace safety an intriguing and important issue in American life.