9/11: Ten years after the tragedy

Before Sept. 11, 2001, safety professionals focused largely on risks inside their facility, such as slips, trips and falls; machine failures; and chemical releases. But the 9/11 terrorist attacks caused many to look closely at external threats – not only terrorism but also natural disasters and other events beyond their control.

In an informal survey, safety professionals from various industries told Safety+Health that although their organization may not have been directly affected by 9/11, the horrific events of that day have had a lasting impact on their approach to safety.

Security obviously became a higher priority. “9/11 has made us take a longer and stronger look at overall property and employee security,” said a respondent in the wholesale trade industry. “Before this event, security was almost non-existent. You’ve heard about the ‘open-door policy.’ Well, this was a literal statement before 9/11.”

Additionally, a risk/safety manager for a public school system said, “I think it brought safety and crisis preparedness to the forefront of management’s thinking. More emphasis has been put on everyday safety and preparing for a crisis, whether that crisis is a tornado warning or an unauthorized visitor in the building.”

Regarding specific changes, most respondents indicated that their employer put more emphasis on evacuation planning, natural disaster preparedness and secured access to the facility. While 10 percent said they made no changes after 9/11, about half said they conducted terrorism-related planning; some also increased practice drills and use of personal protective equipment.

“I believe it has helped define the necessity for realistic and all-encompassing emergency action thinking and planning,” said a respondent in the manufacturing industry. “In addition, it shows we all must be deeply involved in security measures to ensure that disasters like 9/11 are a total team response effort, in unison, versus different departments or divisions fending for themselves.”

Although 9/11 prompted organizations to re-examine safety efforts, the motivation for continued enhancements extends beyond a single event.

As the wholesale trade respondent put it, “9/11 only brought to light what was obviously wrong and neglected. It made good business and practical sense to make these changes.”

Safety professionals gave different reasons for implementing new safety measures – customer expectations, reducing workers’ compensation claims, concern about workplace violence and compliance with Department of Homeland Security requirements.

However, for a supervisor at the U.S. Postal Service, the bottom line was simply this: “Above all else, the changes were for the safety, security and health of our employees and the general public.”

In the pages that follow, Safety+Health takes a close look at two safety efforts prompted by 9/11 – protecting emergency workers and securing chemical facilities.

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