The problem is: We have failed to adequately define the problem. One good illustration to substantiate that thesis would be the talk given at the opening session of the 1999 American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference in Baltimore. The essence of the message delivered by Assistant Secretary of Labor Charles N. Jeffress was that approval of proposed ergonomics standards would - at least in large part - solve the soft tissue injury problem. That mindset - coupled with the prevalence of the quick-fix mentality - is exactly what has led to the repeated failures (over the last twenty plus years), to make real progress in reducing the pain and suffering - not to mention cost - of neuromusculoskeletal injuries. There is some irony in the fact that the efficaciousness of a holistic approach was demonstrated almost two decades ago but has gone largely unheeded.

More recently, in the February 24, 2005 issue of USA Today, we read the headline story telling of the epidemic of soft-tissue injuries among TSA airport screeners. The article says that "Injured workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), more than two-thirds of whom are screeners, missed nearly a quarter-million days of work last year.

Careful reading of the article suggests that there is still little understanding of the etiology of softtissue injuries and the remedies currently in common usage just aren't working.

Why We Miss the Point

Safety professionals are burdened with a history of looking for the cause of accidents. The knowledge that almost all losses are the product of multiple causation is omnipresent but still usually disregarded. Nowhere is the oversight more obvious and more costly than in the case of soft tissue injuries.

For how long have accident investigations of back injuries required that a specific time of the "accident" be placed on the accident report? Back injuries are virtually always the result of repeated strain - often over years.This is common knowledge among safety professionals but rarely acted upon.

For many years, loss prevention was seen as a technical problem. Then, behavioral scientists convinced lots of loss prevention professionals that, first and foremost, accident prevention was a behavioral problem. Certainly technology can reduce risk; just as certainly, shaping behaviors to comply with known low risk behaviors by soon, certain, and positive reinforcement can reduce exposure. While technology and behavioral science are ingredients in loss resistant environments, they are not at the heart of the matter: Attitudes are. And attitudes are simply a reflection of organization culture. Culture is shaped by what the population believes and values.

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