Many facilities have put forth the effort to set up a visual environment in their facility to help improve the overall safety of the area. Sometimes this is largely because of regulatory requirements by OSHA or other agencies. Other times it is just as part of an overall effort to keep everyone safe.
No matter the situation, facilities all too often think that they are done with the process once they have completed the initial effort of improving visual communications. The fact is, however, that putting up signs, labels and other safety markings should be just the beginning of an ongoing process.
All facilities should continue to find tune their safety markings to help improve the overall safety of the workplace. In many cases, this fine tuning actually requires more effort than the original project of creating the visual workplace.
Each facility needs to have their own custom ongoing improvement plan in place when it comes to safety markings. The following tips, however, will give you some steps that you can then customize for your own facility.
These steps can occur in a cycle so that when you have completed each step, you simply restart at step number one and go through them again. Depending on the size of the facility, and other factors, it may take several months or even longer to complete one full cycle.
Step 1 – Analyze Your Current Situation
Whether this is the first time you are running through this cycle or the 100th, you always want to start by analyzing your current situation. There are many different aspects of this step, but the most important thing is to get a good understanding of where things are going well, and where there is room for improvement.
It is important to remember that this is not necessarily the time to come up with the solutions to potential problems. When analyzing your current situation, you simply want to identify as many areas related to your safety markings that are going well, and where things aren’t going as well as you had hoped.
Here are a number of different things you can look at to help accomplish this task.
Review the Data – Step five in this cycle is to collect data, and anytime you implement any safety markings improvement you should also be collecting data. This means that you will have a good amount of information to analyze and use when identifying areas for improvement.
Talk to Employees – In many facilities, the employees will be the most valuable source of information you can have. Take some time to speak with them about how they think the safety markings in the facility are working, and where they noticed problems. You can also send out a written survey to allow a more anonymous submission of this type of information.
Walk the Floor – Taking time to walk through the facility and see if you can spot any areas where there could be a benefit from new safety markings, or improvements to existing ones can be very helpful.
Evaluate all Markings – Over time, even the best quality safety markings will wear out or get dirty. When walking through the facility, write down any issues you find with the condition of each marking. Even small amounts of damage can make a marking hard to read, so make sure they are replaced as soon as possible.
As you perform these tasks, begin making a list of every possible area where you feel you could fine tune your safety markings. Allow other members of the safety or management team to submit items on this list as well.
It doesn’t matter how big or small an improvement may be, your goal is to always strive for a perfectly safe facility so even minor improvements will be an important part of achieving that goal.
Step 2 – Make a Plan
Once you have completed step one, you should have a list of different areas where improvements can be made. This list will help you to create your plan of action for fine tuning your safety markings. It isn’t, however, the only source of information that you will use.
In addition to the list compiled in step one, you also want to take some time to see if there are any industry changes that may require some updates to your safety markings. The following are some good places to start:
Regulatory Updates – OSHA and other regulatory agencies are frequently making updates to their regulations as well as announcing recommendations for safety improvement. Whether it is required or not, keeping up to date with OSHA’s advice is very helpful. With this in mind, make sure to check the OSHA website and look under the news section to see if anything impacts your facility.
Industry Best Practices – Another way to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to safety markings is to keep up to date with industry best practices. Depending on what specific industry you’re in, there are trade magazines, websites, newsletters and other sources that can often let you know what other companies are doing to improve safety. Keep an eye on these items to see if there are any updates to best practices regarding safety markings.
Safety Marking Products – Just like any industry, the companies that make safety markings are always working to improve the products they offer. Review the latest options for things like floor tape, safety signs, pipe labels and other items to see if any of the latest products will help your facility improve your overall safety.
There are likely many other areas that you can look to come up with additional ideas. When these are combined with the list you created in step one, you will be able to easily identify a wide range of different improvement opportunities within your facility.
In a perfect world, you will be able to implement every improvement you can come up with when it comes to your safety markings. The reality is, however, that every facility has a limited budget, and a limited number of people who can be working on these types of things.
This is why you need to plan out which improvements to your safety markings you want to implement in each cycle. To do this, you will want to prioritize them based on how much of an impact they will have on the total safety of the facility. The easiest way to do this is to make a table where you can enter each item.
Within the table, you can list key points about each improvement item, and then organize them from most important to least. You can create a table in any way you find effective, but here is a good example:
Cost to Implement
Man Hours to Implement
Brief Overview of Requirements
Replacing Torn Safety Labels
The labels above each fire extinguisher in the facility are old and beginning to crack. We would like to replace them with reflective labels for improved visibility
Toxic Chemical Hazard Signs
The new painting lab is using chemicals listed as hazardous by OSHA. We need to place signs at every entrance to remain compliant.
Adding Floor Marking Tape to Aisles
Possible Future Requirement
The aisles throughout the warehouse area need floor markings to help identify where high-lows can drive and where people can walk. This may become a safety requirement by OSHA in the future.
This is a fairly basic table, but it shows how it can help you to organize all the key points of information for your planned changes. Based on the information in the table, you would likely need to prioritize the toxic chemical hazard signs first, since that is a regulatory requirement.
You can then look at your budget and employee schedules to decide what other items can be completed. Any improvement ideas that do not get implemented should be saved so they can be considered with the next round of improvements.
Over time, your facility will cover all the major items, and will start to have the resources to really fine tune your safety markings.
Once you have selected the items that you want to implement, create a detailed set of instructions on how it is to be done, including a schedule of events. This plan should include key information about each of the following things:
Where to Get Resources – Identify where any needed resources will be acquired. In some cases, there will be inventory available within the facility. In others, you will need to order from a third party. Identifying this type of thing can help to avoid delays down the road.
Schedule the Improvements – Identify when you will be making the actual changes, and let anyone in an effected area know that it is coming, especially if it could impact their work.
Who is Responsible – Assign one person to oversee each improvement task that is being implemented. Even if the same person is doing multiple, it is good to have a single point of contact for each job.
What Training will be Necessary – While the training is covered in depth in step four, it is a good idea to have at least the basics of when and how it will take place ready to go.
Once you have completed all of this planning, which may take a significant amount of time, you are ready to move on to step three.
Step 3 – Implement the Plan
While this step will likely take the longest to actually complete, it is actually the most straight forward. If step one and two were done properly, you should have a very clear set of instructions on what needs to be done, and when it will be done.
The most important thing to keep in mind about step three is that you always want to focus on quality during implementation. Some people are tempted or even encouraged to rush jobs so that people can get back to work quickly.
For example, if you are having a department shut down while you add in floor marking shapes to identify where different hazards exist, the manager of that area may want to minimize the downtime. If the people doing the actual installing rush the job, however, the markings may not be installed properly.
This will mean they need to be replaced more frequently than expected, or even that they could cause a tripping hazard or other safety concern. With this in mind, make sure everyone who is working on implementing your fine tuning projects knows that it is far better to take your time and do it right the first time than to have to redo it again down the road.
Step 4 – Training
Whenever you make a change to the safety markings of your facility, you need to make sure that everyone who interacts with them in any way will know what is going on. If people don’t know what message a marking is supposed to convey, it is really pointless to have it there at all.
With this in mind, you should schedule training whenever there is an actual change in procedure, or a new system in place.
If you are adding in new floor markings, for example, and they are color coded based on what safety hazards exist, you will want to make sure everyone is aware of exactly what each color means. Keep in mind, however, that not every change requires a long seminar or in person class. Sometimes, handing out simple flyers will be even more effective.
Using the example of the floor markings that identify risks, you could simply print off a paper that has a paragraph or two of text that introduces the new floor marking policy, and then a list of which colors mean what. The list could look something like this:
Take extra precautions not to have open flames or sparks in this area.
Avoid using metal tools without proper rubber protection on the handles. Also watch out for any exposed wires.
Wear proper HAZMAT gear when entering this area.
Always exercise basic safety practices throughout the facility
If two or more colors are striped on the markings, it means that the hazard represented by each color is present in this area.
This flyer will be very simple to hand out, and it will give everyone something that they can refer back to during the first few days or weeks after the implementation of the new safety markings.
Of course, if a full training session is required, that should be scheduled with the department managers to help minimize any impact to getting important work done.
Step 5 – Gather Data
Finally, the last step in this cycle of fine tuning your safety markings is to gather data. This data will help you to determine how effective your changes have been, and give you key insights into what types of changes need to be made during the next cycle.
Ideally you should have someone from either outside the company, or at least from outside your department gather this data to help ensure it is objective. You don’t want someone overlooking a problem just because they were the one to implement that specific change.
There are many types of data that you can gather, and it will often take many weeks or months to have enough information to accurately evaluate your changes. The following are some key points of data that you should watch for:
Injury Rates – Have the rates of injuries gone up or down since the change was implemented.
Near Miss Rates – Have people reported more or less near misses since your changes were put in place.
Employee Complaints – Are employees complaining about the new or updated safety markings? If so, try to find out why.
Workplace Productivity – While these markings are primarily about safety, it is always important to remember that the facility also needs to remain productive. If a new marking is dramatically reducing the work that is being completed, it may need to be reevaluated.
Try to have all the data that you gathered stored in one central place, and try to be as organized as possible. This will help to ensure you are able to take action based on the data that is gathered.
Remember, this data collection step is not meant to place blame on anyone, or even to point out fault with the changes that were made. It should be used only to help foster the ongoing safety improvement, and the fine tuning of your safety markings throughout the facility.
Improve Your Safety Markings Today
Having a well-planned cycle for fine tuning your safety markings will help you to quickly improve the way your facility looks at these markings. Of course, in addition to being well organized so you can make the most important changes the fastest, it will also give you the structure necessary to help ensure you can continuously fine tune your safety markings today and long into the future.