Making work safer place still top priority in Kentucky

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From the House

By Rep. Jeff Greer

  FRANKFORT – While it has been anything but easy for our businesses during the last several years, they can point with pride to one thing: Their safety record is arguably the best it has ever been.

In 2009 – the latest year on record – workplace fatalities nationwide were at their lowest since records were first kept in 1992, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there were nine percent fewer injuries on the job than there had been just the year before.

Kentucky saw the same trend in 2009.  Workplace fatalities dipped below 100 for the first time, and the decline in workplace injuries was a key reason why a national rating agency recommended – for the fifth year in a row – that employers pay lower workers compensation premiums.

The cabinet found that a little more than four out of every 100 workers had an occupational injury or disease in 2009, with education and health services having the highest rate and financial companies having the lowest. 

Most industries saw a reduction when compared to 2008, but the construction industry made the most improvement.

The state’s Labor Cabinet is doing what it can to keep these numbers moving down. 

In 2009, it was invited 270 times by companies wanting an impartial check of their facilities. More than 2,000 hazardous situations were found and corrected, and there were dozens of other inspections in response to calls of imminent danger.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of other efforts designed to make us safer in ways large and small.

Last month, for example, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services showed that Kentucky’s retailers continue doing a great job of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of minors.  The latest annual survey, done in conjunction with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, found that nearly 95 percent followed the law when secretly surveyed.

Tobacco retailers have hovered around that figure since 2003, and remain well above the national average, which was 89 percent in 2009.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services recently offered good news in another category: We’re among the first four states in the nation getting federal stimulus dollars to move more medical records into the electronic age.

Kentucky is expected to receive about $100 million in additional incentive payments over the next four years, easing red tape for all of us and, more importantly, making it easier for doctors to have a fuller picture of their patient’s health in real time.

With our collective health in mind, another issue that affects all of us – living relatively close to the New Madrid Fault – is gaining more attention in light of last year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.

In 1811-12, a series of quakes along the fault were so immense that they altered the course of the Mississippi River and rang church bells in Boston. Little damage was done then because few people lived in the area, but it would be a far different story today.

On April 11, at 10:15 a.m., everyone in the region around the fault is encouraged to take part in the 2011 Great Central U.S. Shake Out, a program designed to bring more awareness about what to do if this disaster strikes again.

To build on that, state officials will take part this May in one of the largest earthquake exercises in the country.  This type of forethought can make a world of difference when it’s truly needed.

With the General Assembly set to re-convene the 2011 Regular Session at the start of next month, my fellow legislators and I will continue looking for ways to do even more to promote safety.

As always, your thoughts on this issue, or any other involving state government, are certainly welcome.  Should you want to write, my address is  Room 367, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.