Closing of the Research Institute for Safety a Loss for OSH
Liberty Mutual is closing its Research Institute for Safety in June 2017. The institute has long been a prime source of scientific workplace safety data and peer-reviewed OSH research. Sharing that research was the facility’s primary mission says Tom Leamon, LMRIS director from 1991 to 2006.
“During my interview with Gary Countryman, then Liberty Mutual Group’s chair, he said my job would be to ‘do good research and let people know about it.’” Later, under the leadership of Chair Ted Kelly, Leamon says the institute “developed a new value proposition . . . to discriminate Liberty in the global insurance marketplace by identifying the company as the leader in occupational safety and risk.”
To achieve those goals, the institute focused on peer-reviewed research, a strategy that increased its visibility and enabled the company to share information across the globe, Leamon explains. The focus on peer-reviewed research also connected the institute to leading global institutions, including Harvard University, University of Massachusetts, Cornell University, Tsinghua and Fudan universities (China) and National Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health (Vietnam). “We were able to work jointly with major players in our field, to collaborate with individual researchers around the globe and to share our findings with national governments, other institutions and even with our direct insurance competitors,” Leamon says.
One of the facility’s most well-known products is the annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. According to Leamon, the index originated from a desire to provide a metric to inform interventions. At the time it was introduced, industry was focusing much attention and resources on repetitive trauma injuries, while often overlooking other prevalent hazards such as slips, trips and falls. The index aimed to help balance that focus, he says.
Leamon also believes the index allowed OSH professionals to validate their efforts. “In many companies, serious incidents are rare, so it can be difficult to argue that interventions are cost effective,” he says. “By showing the burden of various risks identified by the index, OSH professionals have been able to support their safety proposals.”
Leamon credits the company’s “army of safety engineers” for expanding the reach of the research the institute produced. “These OSH professionals made innumerable contributions to their chosen profession, not least of which was through ASSE membership and contribution to the Society’s functions and activities.”
The institute’s unique funding provided advantages that resulted in unique contributions to the OSH profession, Leamon says. “First, our funding was not dependent on the immediate business demands of Liberty and its customers, provided we pursued the research topics where the loss data took us. We also had complementary resources unavailable anywhere else: Liberty’s own massive database of both costs and frequencies, epidemiology skills, experimental laboratory facilities, field access and the flexibility to partner with premier groups. I cannot think of a more potent blend of resources to improve OSH,” he says.
Leamon is disappointed that the company is shuttering the facility. “I understand the changing business case, but I believe that the institute could have been readily repositioned to meet the new demand from the current book of business,” he says. “After all, the injuries (and insurance losses) arising in the home and from the use of automobiles are largely those found in the work environment–for example slipping, being struck by and driving/road accidents.” The loss of this resource is something the OSH community will feel for years to come, Leamon concludes.
ASSE President Tom Cecich, CSP, CIH, echoes those sentiments, calling on the broader OSH community to fill the research gap. “Moving forward, it is vital for the OSH community, along with governments and universities, to pick up the baton and keep workplace research going,” he says. “We need more evidence-based data to convince all employers of the value in building safety and health management programs, as well as providing proof for the most effective workplace safety interventions.”
Tom Leamon directed the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety from 1991 to 2006. During that period, the institute’s terminally degreed staff grew from 3 to more than 20, its laboratories underwent three major expansions and more than 400 peer-reviewed publications were accepted. He previously was chair of Industrial Engineering at Texas Tech. In the U.K., Leamon established the Ergonomics Department in Pilkington Glass in 1964 and the Institute of Occupational Medicine’s Ergonomics Branch in 1975. He holds a Ph.D. from Cranfield University and a B.Sc. in Chemistry from University of Manchester.
ASSE statement on closure of Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety
PARK RIDGE, Illinois — The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) releases the following statement regarding the planned closure of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, a leading researcher in the occupational safety and health field. This statement is attributable to ASSE President Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH:
“Liberty Mutual’s Research Institute for Safety has been a prime source of scientific workplace safety data for more than 60 years, so its closure will result in a major loss for the occupational safety and health field. Liberty Mutual should be applauded for its years of leadership that helped protect workers and citizens through peer-reviewed research. I have always been impressed by their investment in research that has improved workplace safety and health by advancing the profession’s body of knowledge. Moving forward, it is vital for the occupational safety and health community, along with governments and universities, to pick up the baton and keep workplace research going. We need more evidence-based data to convince all employers of the value in building safety and health management programs, as well as providing proof for the most effective workplace safety interventions. We’ve seen safety programs work in keeping people alive and healthy on the job while improving a company’s bottom line, but the evidence still is mostly anecdotal. That scientific body of research needs to be expanded.”