The Adventure of Reducing Risks and Hazards in the Workplace
Whenever starting a new job, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you should be doing, and how it needs to be done. When I started working at a new facility as a safety manager, I began my first day with a meeting with the facility manager. The meeting was set up so he could tell me what was expected of me in my new role, and provide other details of the job. I was quite surprised when the meeting took less than two minutes, and the only objective I was given was to ‘reduce risks and hazards in the workplace.’
I asked for some clarification or guidance in what exactly he was looking for, but he simply said that I was hired to improve safety, and he was leaving the task of finding out how to do it in my hands. He gave me a sheet of paper with some information about what resources I had available, including my annual safety budget and told me to get to work right away. I should point out there that I had several years experience as a safety manager at a large company, which is why I was brought in to this new facility.
The facility had recently been cited by OSHA for a variety of safety hazards, and there were even some fairly severe injuries that occurred in the previous months. The facility owners made it clear that safety was a priority for them, and they were willing to do whatever it took to pass inspections, and keep the employees safe.
Planning My Safety Program
While that initial meeting was unique, to say the least, I was also quite excited about the opportunity. It is quite rare that a safety manager is given such flexibility, and I wanted to make sure the manager wouldn’t regret that decision. I got to work right away planning my safety improvement program.
I wanted to make some quick changes to help improve safety in the short term, and then also plan out ways to create a culture change within the facility so everyone would be more safety focused. I knew this would be difficult, but with the support of the facility management, I knew it could be done.
Creating a Top 5 List
The first thing I wanted to do was identify the top five risks and hazards in the facility, and get them fixed right away. Even if I couldn’t entirely eliminate a particular hazard, I wanted to make changes that would dramatically reduce the safety concerns in the following five areas:
- Reduce Slip and Fall Hazards – The facility had several areas which were well known for being slippery when it was wet outside.
- Replace Safety Signage – Most of the safety signs in the facility were either missing, broken or so dirty that they couldn’t be seen.
- Update Personal Protection Equipment – Two injuries over the past year were due to the fact that employees were not using personal protection equipment. I found that much of this PPE was either broken or missing.
- Label Hazardous Liquid Containers – One of the major areas where the facility got penalized by OSHA was for not having clear labeling on the containers used to store hazardous liquids.
- Add Safety Tape to Indoor Driving Lanes – The facility had several forklifts and other vehicles which were used indoors. While the general areas where they were driven was known, there wasn’t a clear lane that they were required to stay within.
I chose these five items not only because they represented significant risks to the facility, but also because I could implement the improvements very quickly. Once I had settled on these items, I ordered all the necessary materials, including an industrial label printer, safety tape, a variety of different types of personal protection equipment, and several floor coverings to help minimize the risks of falling near the entrances and exits of the facility.
Within three weeks of starting in my job, I had checked off each of these five items from my list of safety improvement goals. I was able to print off custom safety signs, and labels to identify hazardous liquid containers. In addition, I provided the personal protection equipment to the employees and, of course, laid out the floor mats. None of these things were very difficult to do, but they were very important. In these first three weeks, I learned the valuable lesson that if a facility doesn’t pay attention to the little things, it will cause major problems very quickly.
Making a Long Term Safety Program
My next step was to create a long term safety program that would help to put the facility on a path toward continuous safety improvement. The program I had in mind would involve everyone in the facility, and get them to actively work to create a safer workplace. I wanted to create a culture of safety, where problems were identified and addressed right away, before anyone was actually injured.
One of the first, and most important, steps in this process was to set up a way for employees to report safety concerns, and propose ways they could be fixed. This type of program allows the employees to get directly involved with improving the safety of the facility. To get started, I created a paper form which people could fill out describing issues, and how they felt they should be fixed. While I asked for the name of the person submitting the report, I made it clear that it was optional. Allowing people to submit anonymous reports for safety issues can help make many employees more comfortable.
The next thing I wanted to do was provide everyone with training about not only the new safety program, but also safety in general. Showing people just how important it was to work in a safe environment would help build up trust, and encourage people to participate in the program. In order to avoid unnecessary down time at the facility, I set up four training sessions spread out over two weeks. Each employee was assigned a different session that they would attend, so this training would have minimal impact on the facilities production.
At this stage, the training didn’t need to get into too much depth, as it was primarily an introduction. Over time, I had planned to offer a wide range of safety classes, which would go into more depth on specific topics. I spread these classes out so that the employees wouldn’t be overwhelmed with all the changes that were taking place.
Adoption of the Safety Program
Once the training classes had been completed, and the safety program was in place, I wanted to make sure I responded to every safety report that came in quickly, and publically. Showing everyone that their reports were taken seriously would help to ensure the long term success of this program. During the first few weeks, there were only a few safety reports that came in, and they were on fairly minor hazards. When those items were quickly addressed, however, the employees began submitting more of them, and for much more detailed problems.
As I had hoped, the program continued to help identify safety risks and hazards throughout the facility, so I could work on getting them addressed. Over the course of the first year in the facility, there were dozens of risks and hazards identified and either eliminated or minimized thanks to this program. When OSHA performed another inspection, the facility passed without any problems.
Whenever looking at reducing c, it is important to take decisive action to make quick improvements. In addition, however, it is also critical to create a system which will allow continuous improvement over time. By involving the employees who are actually working in the facility, it is easy to get a steady stream of safety improvement ideas for years to come. You’ll be surprised at just how quickly you will be able to reduce the risks and hazards in any workplace.
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