When the U.S. Labor Dept. released its annual update of work-related deaths last month, the statistics boasted a 2 percent dip. While the total -- 5,915 -- was still chill ing, many of the deaths seemed to be pre ventable through job site safety improve ments and enhanced training for those working in inherently dangerous profes sions, such as construction and heavy manufacturing.
But then came Sept. 11, a single day on which more than 6,000 workers were lost in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, forever changing employ er and employee assumptions about work place safety.
The vast majority of these people were doing nothing more dangerous than talking on the phone or reviewing spreadsheets when disaster struck.
" I never, ever thought about something bad happening to me at work," said Katie Miller, who works at One HSBC Center, which at 38 floors, is Buffalo's tallest building. "Now it's on my mind all the time. I think about how I'd get out if something happened. I don't feel comfortable," Miller said.
Meredith Roll, who works as a secre tary for an accounting firm in the 17-story Statler Towers, is also uneasy. "The worst thing that ever hap pened to me at work was cutting my hand on a file cabinet. In a lot of ways, I've felt safer at work than at home," Roll said.
"Now I feel a little creepy when get in the elevator." While Bill Kelly spends his days driving a delivery truck for a paper products compa ny, not behind a desk in an office building, he is also feeling rattled.
"With all this terrorist stuff, it makes you stop and wonder what's going to happen next. I go to strange buildings all day, who knows? I make lot of cell phone calls to make sure people know where I am now," Kelly said.
For employers, the issue of worker safety has become a new priority. Aged building evacuation plans are being unearthed from dusty files and updated. Company travel policies are under review. Security mea sures, everything from employee back ground checks to building access, are under scrutiny as companies take stock of their level of preparedness, according to Kristin Bowl, of the Society for Human Resource Managers.
The Washington, D.C.-based association has been inundated with calls from mem bers around the United States seeking guid ance on these and other issues raised by the terrorist attacks. "One thing we've done is create a special section on our Web site (www.shrm.org) with white papers on topics like emergency preparedness, crisis manage ment and crisis communication," Bowl said. "Everybody wants to do the right thing, but they also want to find out what other companies are doing."
Employers here, and around the country, are also finding that a key step to increasing their workers' comfort level is to keep the intraoffice e-mails and memos coming.
"We've tried to keep our employees as up-to-date as possible about everything we're doing," said Delaware North Cos. spokeswoman Karen Merkel-Libertore.
At HSBC Bank, which has a significant number of personnel in New York City as well as a branch in the World Trade Center, the communications effort needed to be even more intensive. Although the bank did not lose any employees in the attack, work ers received three letters from the bank's chief executive, and details on enhanced security measures.
"The feedback from employees has been very positive," said HSBC spokeswoman Kathy Rizzo Young. "They appreciate that in addition to the operational and security information they needed to have, we were able to make them feel connected as a fami ly."< e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org