Rank-and-File Members Developed Triangle of Prevention Program

The Triangle of Prevention (TOP) program was born out of worker deaths and injuries.

During the 1980s and 1990s numerous catastrophic fires, explosions and toxic releases plagued the U.S. petrochemical industry, causing workers to suffer horrific deaths and injuries.

One of the landmark occupational health and safety incidents was the Oct. 23, 1989 explosion and fire at the Phillips 66 Company’s Houston Chemical Complex facility near the Houston Ship Channel in Pasadena, Texas, that killed 23 people and injured 314 others.

“Blame-the-Worker” company-driven health and safety programs were unable to reveal the root causes of these incidents and prevent them from reoccurring. So, in the mid-1990s the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) enlisted a team of rank-and-file members who were health and safety activists to develop a worker- and union-driven program to replace ineffective behavior-based safety (BS) programs, said John Scardella, the program administrator for the Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC) that administers TOP.

He explained the program’s history to those attending the Sept. 26-28 TOP conference at Local 10-1’s union hall. 

Limited Focus

OCAW member Glenn Erwin was one of the activists who formed TOP and later headed the program for PACE and the USW until he retired in 2012.

He and other members of the team knew the BS programs focused on slips, trips, falls, and worker behavior as a cause of incidents. Managers usually blamed workers for incidents, and prevention focused on wearing personal protective equipment instead of hazard elimination.

The team also saw how companies usually ignored how work processes contributed to a dangerous work environment.

“Glenn and his team saw that companies only focused on process safety when fires and explosions happened,” Scardella said. “There was also a failure to share lessons learned.

“Plus, companies used a low OSHA recordable rate to show how safe a plant was, which did not capture true safety,” he added.

The team wanted to create a pro-active health and safety program.

“Glenn Erwin knew that to prevent incidents from reoccurring, workers had to be involved in health and safety and control it along with management,” Scardella said. “The program puts workers in roles as trainers, investigators and leaders.”

Worker Investigators

TOP is composed of three sides: Systems of Safety Training and Investigations, Comprehensive Tracking of Results, and Union Design & Leadership.

The program requires everyone in a plant, including managers and non-represented staffers, to be trained on health and safety. Workers are trained to be trainers, to investigate incidents, to measure and track incidents and near misses, and to take a leadership role.

Employers agree to a no-discipline policy for reporting or being involved in a near miss. Plus, workers investigate incidents in conjunction with management and government agencies.

Scardella said it is essential for any TOP investigation process to use the logic-tree diagram method to find the root causes of incidents. If a worker made a mistake on the job that resulted in an incident or near miss, the logic tree is used to find what contributed to the worker making an error.

Locals have used logic-tree diagrams to settle grievances when companies wanted to discipline workers involved in an incident, Scardella said.

“Anyone can learn to use this method, and it can’t be manipulated. The logic tree is fact-based no matter the outcome,” he said. “Identifying accidents is not enough. Finding and fix-ing hazards is not enough. You need to identify root causes.”

Erwin and his team also made capturing lessons learned and passing them on a key part of TOP.

“It is important that we recognize TOP’s history,” Scardella said. “We are proud of that history. We stand here today on the shoulders of those who put the program together.”

PHOTOS

Top: Jim Dannelley from LU 9-265 at the Shell Saraland, Ala., refinery makes a point during a TOP presentation. Photo by Mike Hancock, LU 9-562 retiree.

Bottom: TOP conference participants engaged in a small group activity to provide feedback on a new TOP training manual. They answered questions in the manual and discussed them. Photo by Mike Hancock, LU 9-562 retiree.

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