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Local companies say work-related injuries have declined

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State numbers higher than national average

By Leslie Moore

Kentucky has tied with eight states to receive the distinction as the fifth most dangerous state to work in, according to a study conducted by Allsup, a provider of Social Security disability insurance representation.

Using 2011 data collected from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the study shows that Kentucky has 0.8 injuries or illnesses involving job transfers or restrictions per 100 workers.

Though this rate is just 0.1 higher than the national average of 0.7, it is significantly higher than the least dangerous, New York and District of Columbia, which have injury rates of 0.1.

But on a community level, local businesses and factories say on the job injuries and the resulting worker's compensation claims have declined in the last few years.

At Wholesale Hardwood Interior, workers use several types of woodworking machines such as molders, planers and various types of saws. They also employ truck drivers, forklift drivers and warehouse employees.

Safety coordinator Joey Houk said safety training programs are tailored for each department to address the different types of safety concerns workers might face.

"Our supervisors do a great job of implementing these safety guidelines with our employees with the goal of avoiding injuries in the workplace," Houk said. "We provide eye protection, hearing protection and a complete safety manual is given to all employees."

There is also a monthly safety topic promoted throughout the entire company. Topics range from first aid, forklift safety and lock out/tag out procedures to emergency evacuation.

Houk said the monthly safety topic helps reinforce training programs the company already has in place and ensures that safety is always on workers' minds.

T.K. Sapp, co-owner of Custom Stairbuilders, said there haven't been any injuries there for a long time, but a few years ago there was an incident that pushed safety to the forefront of everyone's minds.

"Three years ago one of my partners got his finger caught in a molder machine and lost part of a thumb," Sapp said. "He just got his fingers too close to the molder head."

Calling the injury a "freak accident," Sapp said the incident has led to everyone being more careful around the machine.

A small company with seven employees, Sapp said they provide workers with safety instructions, glasses and dust masks. He admits getting workers to be diligent about wearing their masks has been a bit of a challenge considering he doesn't like wearing them himself.

Most of their machines also have guards over the blades to protect workers from cuts, and Sapp said all of his employees are careful.

"We've had our share here and there, but nothing major," Sapp said. "We've been very fortunate."

Cox Interior Inc. safety and health manager Ann Moss said because of equipment upgrades and mandatory safety training, the occurrence and severity of reported injuries has steadily declined in the last decade.

"Over the years we used to see a lot of cuts, lacerations and things of that sort because of our machinery," Moss said. "We see fewer of those than we did in the past."

Moss said sprains and strains are what she deals with most. But thanks to continued to improvements in worker safety training, Moss said reports of these are declining, too.

"Thankfully, we don't see the type of injuries that we used to," Moss said.

For companies in Campbellsville, regular safety meetings appear to be the norm.

John McKinley, co-owner of McKinley Monument, said even though his company has just three employees, they still have monthly safety meetings. And according to McKinley, they don't have workplace injuries.

Classic Kitchens co-owner Ruth Wilson said all employees gather for an informal safety meeting once a month. She said the meetings are an opportunity to talk about issues such as preventing back injuries and the importance of putting tools away when not in use.

"We've been really lucky the last few years, expect for some little minor things like a cut or something," Wilson said.

At Campbellsville Industries Inc., controller Jessica Hunt said the most common types of injuries she has seen are smashed fingers and metal shavings getting into workers' eyes.

"Employees are required to wear safety glasses, but in our field sometimes [metal shavings] go up over the glasses," Hunt said.

For local government workers, back strain appears to be the most commonly reported injury. Campbellsville City Clerk Cary Noe said this includes EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers. Noe said police officers also get injured in altercations while making arrests.

Taylor County Occupational Tax Clerk Sherry Kerr said back injuries are fairly common and usually result from heavy lifting, improper use of equipment or falling.

Anytime a worker's compensation claim is filed, Kerr says the county investigates to see if all safety precautions were in use when the injury occurred.

Noe said the city departments have safety meetings every other month and the city doesn't get a lot of worker's compensation claims.

Noe said the city enforces wearing safety vests and glasses, and that, every year, it receives grant money to disburse throughout the departments.

"Sanitation this year needed new rain gear," Noe said.

She said she talks with department chiefs and supervisors each year to determine the best use for the grant money.

According to Noe, whenever an injury occurs, she looks back and considers what could have been done differently to prevent the injury.

"You know there's always room for improvement but we have really come a long way," Noe said.

Calls to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet and several other local companies weren't returned at press time.