Every company understands the importance of a safety program that ensures the health and safety of each employee. Unfortunately, these programs often fade into the background until a “near miss,” or injury occurs. When this happens, the program’s importance is resurrected and reactive measures are taken. It’s a shame that an accident must occur for safety to rise in paramountcy.
OSHA has a long history of dealing with workplace safety, and it offers some good advice to companies of all types. OSHA’s “Four Elements of a Successful Safety Program” makes sense and should serve as a starting point for any company’s safety commitment. The four elements are:
1. Management Commitment and Employee Involvement. It is hard to argue with this element because a safety program cannot be successful without committed managers and involved employees. Of course, this commitment requires managers to set a safety policy and employees to follow this policy. It also requires someone in the organization to assume the title of Safety Manager. With this title comes the responsibility of developing a safety program. The Safety Manager will also likely organize an employee-based Safety Committee to ensure the success of the safety program. The Safety Manager, working closely with the Safety Committee, must also ensure that accident recording procedures and emergency response plans are in place and understood by all employees. In addition, the Safety Manager and Safety Committee should periodically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the safety program as they strive for continuous improvement and an incident-free workplace.
2. Worksite Analysis. A fundamental part of any effective safety program is a regularly scheduled self-inspection, or audit, of the workplace. This should be planned and carried out by the Safety Committee, under the direction and support of the Safety Manager. Checklists showing things to look for during the audit are helpful. Although the items on a checklist can vary significantly from company to company, the following four categories are worth including on just about any checklist:
• Facility-related: the condition of ceilings, walls, floors, doors (especially exit doors), windows, aisles, walkways, stairs, ramps, racks, shelves, cabinets, fire extinguishers, sprinkler heads and alarms. All should be in good condition and unobstructed.
• Machinery: the placement and functionality of machine controls, guards, power switches, emergency stops, lockout/tag-out instructions and exhaust equipment. There also should be sufficient clearance for machine operators to safely perform required functions, such as operation, cleaning and lubrication. Any machine that has a track record of safety issues should have a greater number of items that need checking.
• Tools and portable equipment: the condition and location of air lines, electrical cords, ladders, conveyors and personal protective equipment.
• Motorized vehicles: the presence of proper horns, warning signals, start up checklists, operator training programs and restrictions on usage.
3. Hazard Prevention and Control. This part of the program requires that any safety violations found during the audit, or at any other time, are corrected in an expedited manner. There must be a formal mechanism for following up on all violations to guarantee the corrective action is taken. This element requires management to enforce all safety rules in effect. If employees are required to wear safety glasses or other personnel protective equipment when on the job, they must do so, or risk consequences. It is also essential that managers lead by example. Any manager who disregards a safety rule, no matter for how brief a period, risks setting a
bad precedent. Employees may interpret a manager’s non-conformance actions to mean safe practices are not that important after all. Another key to hazard prevention and control is an environment of trust in which any employee is comfortable voicing safety concerns without fear of retribution.
4. Training for all Employees. In an effective safety program, all employees must be trained not only to recognize workplace hazards, but also to react to them. Training and re-training must occur on a regular basis. Special training must be planned for new employees joining the company. Even those employees who do not normally work in areas where potential hazards exist must be acquainted with safety rules pertaining to these areas.
Incorporating the four elements previously described can make any safety program more effective. Embracing each element will help to establish safe practices as a habit, rather than a remedy after an incident occurs.