As much as we preach the need to work safely and raise the level of safety awareness in our companies, workplace accidents do occur. The reasons are extensive and can stem from workers simply not paying attention, taking dangerous and unnecessary shortcuts, and even applying temporary fixes to equipment to keep it running.
Many believe that safety is either embedded in a company’s culture or it is not. This is evident from the commitments made and the actions taken by the company with regard to safety. Yet, irrespective of a company’s approach to safety, we can take personal responsibility for our own safety through a few simple actions, both in the workplace and beyond:
• Really pay attention to your surroundings. Take the time to look around and see if anything is out of place or just does not look right. Often, jobs get interrupted and things are left incomplete, creating a potentially hazardous condition. If possible, work with others to remedy this condition until the job can resume. Also, seek out obvious problems in the area, such as frayed wires, misplaced hoses or other trip hazards, fluid leaks coming from equipment, spills, missing or damaged safety equipment/guards, or poorly stacked material or supplies. Being aware of your surroundings is the first step to recognizing any threats that may be present.
• Don’t assume. Assuming that certain things have been done (and done properly) by others can put us at risk. For example, assuming a machine has been powered down by someone else and not verifying this before starting a repair is dangerous (and probably a violation of your company’s lock-out/tag-out protocol). Likewise, assuming that all tools have been properly tightened or that material has been properly secured each present unacceptable levels of risk. Taking a few minutes to verify conditions, rather than simply accepting them, is time well-spent in the course of maintaining a safe work area.
• Dress properly. There are reasons that dress codes dictate what should and should not be worn in the workplace. These reasons can be for personal safety, or for the protection of the products we make or the equipment we use. Regardless of the reason, dress codes need to be clearly communicated, understood and followed without exception.
• Follow all existing safety protocols. Similar to dress codes, safety protocols are established to promote safety in the workplace. Wearing personal protection equipment such as safety glasses or goggles, hearing protection, safety shoes, helmets, masks, or ventilators may be required in designated areas. Operating equipment with proper safety guards in place is a standard protocol geared to preventing operator injury. Ignoring these protocols not only creates personal risk, but also is a violation that can (and should) result in disciplinary action, as companies must protect themselves as well as their employees.
• Know what to do if something goes wrong. If a major safety-related problem occurs, most companies want employees to evacuate the area, in which case knowledge of an evacuation plan is paramount. However, other situations may require employees to offer assistance or initiate certain actions. For example, in addition to being familiar with the location of the closest exit door, each employee should know the location of first aid kits, emergency stops on machines or equipment, eye wash stations, telephones, fire alarms, safety showers, and, in some cases, fire extinguishers (only for those who have been trained and are proficient in their use).
Knowing what to do or where to go when a safety-related incident occurs is another
way of increasing the chances that everyone will stay safe.
• Initiate safety audits/reviews. One of the most effective means of assuring a safe workplace is to conduct an audit of the area. The purpose of an audit is to discover and record potential safety problems or violations of current safety practices. Generally, a team is assigned to complete the audit on a regularly scheduled basis. It may be surprising to see the number of problems identified by the team, especially if no audits have been done in the past or there has been a long interval between audits. In line with taking personal responsibility for our own safety, it is advantageous to participate in the auditing process to have an opportunity to voice any safety concerns we may have.
• Act on results of those safety audits. Just as important as having safety audits is acting on the findings. Often, it will be necessary to prioritize the findings, as resources may not be available to address everything at once. Prioritizing allows the most critical issues to be addressed first. Posting the results of the safety audit along with the corrective actions planned is an effective means of assuring safety consciousness throughout the organization and promoting that much-needed culture of safety.