According to the International Labour Organization, 317 million accidents occur on the job annually – a rate that breaks down to 153 work-related accidents every 15 seconds across the globe. Many of these accidents result in extended absences from work and increased economic burdens across the board. More importantly, they diminish the quality of life for millions of individuals – and their families – affected annually.
In his role as a research manager for workplace health and well-being at UL, E. Andrew Kapp drives trust to help companies understand how they can foster safer environments both within the workplace and, to a larger extent, within the broader communities in which they operate. Kapp’s approach stems from a firm belief that organizations, employees and technology must all work together to optimize workplace health and safety – and that’s a foundational principle he adapted from an unconventional place.
In the early 1990s, Kapp was serving in the Marine Corps, stationed in Southern California, where he also began pursuit of a master’s degree at the University of Southern California. During Operation Desert Storm, also known as the first Gulf War, he took notice of the well-designed systematic approach that the military used.
“At a time when more than 6,000 people in the U.S. were dying each year in workplace accidents, it amazed me how much effort and strategic planning went into building a system for the purpose of combat,” explains Kapp. “I couldn’t help but imagine the impact if we applied that same level of energy and focus on the development of a well-built system designed to make workplaces safer.”
Hoping to be a part of the overall transformation needed in workplace health and safety, Kapp left Southern California to earn his Ph.D. in industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for the next 17 years, he focused on macroergonomics for sociotechnical systems by matching the right combination of technology, methods and techniques to optimize results for organizations.
He exited his full-time role in academia two years ago to join UL, whose organizational mission matched the one Kapp had experienced during those formative days in Southern California and Operation Desert Storm.
“I believe making workplaces safer is a worthy place to focus one’s life. Not only are we helping workers make it home at the end of the day, but we are enabling them to live their lives better,” offers Kapp. “Knowing that UL focuses on empowering trust in a complex world to achieve its mission of creating safer, healthier living and working environments for people around the world, I asked myself just one question – how could I not go work for this organization?”
Since joining UL, Kapp has extensively surveyed UL’s EHS and Sustainability clients, customers and contacts to gain insight into how they approach health and safety and, more importantly, how they integrate the two. This integration is an area where Kapp sees the most challenges for companies but also the greatest opportunity for improvement. Through his role in UL’s Integrated Health & Safety Institute, he devotes much of his time to promoting the value of integrating health and safety functions and traveling the globe to understand the sociotechnical approach to workplace health and safety taken by other countries, such as China and India.
“In the U.S., we are fixated on a siloed approach to how we address overall health and safety,” says Kapp. “We analyze the health and safety of an individual at work, and then separately, the health and safety of that same individual outside of work. In reality, what happens on the job affects a person’s health and safety off the job, and vice versa – making it smarter and more efficient to take an integrated approach to health and safety.”
The baseline survey work Kapp and his colleagues conducted has given UL the momentum to go forward with their flagship project for 2017 – a nationwide survey currently underway that will offer the first true representative view of the state of integrated health and safety in the U.S. workplace.
“Even though we’ve made great progress in improving workplace conditions when it comes to health and safety, data shows that, since 2011, we’ve bottomed out,” explains Kapp. “Now is not the time to rest on our laurels and settle for ‘good enough.’ We need to push harder for organizations to develop a more systematic approach to workplace health and safety, one that will both improve workplace conditions as well as dramatically reduce the incidences of injuries and fatalities.”