As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum in America, employers often shirked responsibility for worker’s welfare. According to “Safety First” by Mark Aldrich, a book about the history of safety among the American labor force, accidents in the early 1900s were “cheap,” meaning that though accidents on job sites were prevalent, workers and their families often had a hard time winning cases against employers.
In fact, the situation was so dire in 1900 that numerous studies showed only about half of all fatally injured workers recovered anything from their employer. And when they did win, settlement payouts were usually only half of a full year’s salary.
Today, employers – especially those in manufacturing – often bend over backwards to make safety a top priority on the job – and it certainly shows. In fact, the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate in steel – or the time an employee is away from a job due to injury – has dropped 64% since 2006.
While that’s great news, it’s still important to remain aware of changes in regulation and new trends that reflect current conditions.
Which leads to the question: how do you know if your safety protocols are sufficient?
Take a look at these implementable best practices to see how your organization stacks up in safety.
Document policies and procedures
This is where everything starts. Without documented policies and procedures, it’s incredibly difficult to plan out your workday or enforce any rules.
“Policies are the backbone of everything that you do as an organization, and you should view them as providing guidance and structure,” says Geoff Pinkney, Safety Manager at Majestic Steel USA, a national steel service center.
To start getting proper documentation in place, look to hire someone who doesn’t just have knowledge of the regulations, but also understands how your individual processes work. This is important because though things might look alright procedurally on paper, they may not function correctly from a process standpoint.
Think your people on the floor are pretty good at just “figuring it out?” That’s a recipe for disaster, according to Geoff:
“You never want to just ‘figure it out.’ Safety is by nature a reactive field, but the key is to be proactive. By putting the guidelines and structure in place beforehand, you’ll be one step ahead before an incident happens.”
Train all employees
After you have your policies in writing, it’s not enough to expect your teams to read and implement them – you now need to schedule time for training.
Experts recommend spreading the information out over a few days, or even a few weeks. Otherwise, you may overwhelm your employees with too much information, which means they’re less likely to retain important pieces.
You should evaluate the size of the groups you’re training, and consider how people learn best. For example, it might make sense to do a larger general training group, and then break into smaller groups to dissect specifics.
“Having valuable one-on-one time in a smaller group is essential,” Geoff adds.
Something else that’s important? Hands-on training. While there are certainly some things that can be accomplished in a classroom, skill based requirements, like driving a lift truck need to be practiced.
Throughout training and at the end, quizzing your employees, or doing some type of knowledge check to make sure they understand the material is a must.
And who says it has to be boring? Work in some gamification elements and have fun – research shows people engage more readily and retain more when they’re having a good time.
Make safety the top priority
It goes without saying that safety is important for a very obvious reason: to keep people injury-free. But there are plenty of other reasons why safety should be a priority among your crew.
For one, productivity. If someone gets hurt, downtime from stopping a line or taking time off work can significantly impact the bottom line.
“In my previous role, we had an employee who lost a leg and the line had to be cut up. It was a brand new, $15 million line and they had to redo the whole machine again, which took a lot of time,” says Geoff.
Even in an issue that’s less severe, productivity and efficiency often suffer when safety isn’t practiced correctly.
The best way to make safety a priority is to incorporate it into the culture of the company from the top down. When management makes a commitment to safety, it’s much easier to get that commitment level all the way down the chain. It’s also easier to get others to buy in and follow the way when they see where the company is going and how they can help.
Implement behavioral safety
Behavioral safety is a trend that professionals are seeing more and more. What it boils down to is realizing the elements that are around you, and realizing what you’re doing at the time of those elements. In other words, mindfulness about the task at hand.
This technique is taught as a way to be proactive versus reactive.
An on-the-job example would be coming across an employee on the floor who isn’t wearing personal protection equipment (PPE). In the past, a company may have had a no tolerance policy for that behavior – essentially, they acted like a safety cop.
“What behavioral does is it takes that element and says, for the initial infraction, don’t be the behavioral cop,” says Geoff. “The first time an issue occurs, coach the person instead of disciplining them so they understand why it’s important to wear the proper PPE.”
Another element of behavioral safety takes a more holistic view of the situation, instead of viewing it in a silo.
It’s taking a step back and asking questions like: Were they rushing? Are they working 12 hours, 7 days a week, so they’re fatigued or not focused? Did they stay up late last night watching a big game?
All of these factors can determine whether a person needs additional breaks, better nutrition or a bit of exercise to keep them laser-focused on the task at hand.
Establish a safety committee
A safety committee acts as the ears and eyes of their different departments, and is responsible for reporting back about issues they’re seeing across the organization.
“As a safety professional, it’s my job to understand the entire plant, but will I always have those finite details? No. So, to have everyone from different areas offer those details is huge,” says Geoff.
Building a cross-area team also empowers individual department leads to speak up, and then disseminate information to their respective teams.
Hold regular safety meetings
In addition to forming a safety committee that meets on a consistent basis, regular safety meetings with the whole team are also important.
The organization of these meetings can vary depending on the size of your company and how it’s run. However, you’d typically want to plan an agenda that discusses any upcoming projects, addresses where the company is moving and then give opportunities for team members to vocalize concerns.
“One thing I do advocate for, however, is not waiting for a meeting to bring up a serious concern,” says Geoff. “That’s best done on an as-needed basis. The monthly meetings should be more of a sounding board for an issue that you want more eyes and ears on.”
Ensure compliance, then go above
To stay in business, you’ll need to play by the regulations and rules set forth by government bodies like OSHA and the DOT. However, you should always analyze your own situation to determine whether more stringent regulations are required for your organization.
The government standards are bare minimums and you should never aim to only meet the minimum requirements. Instead, make an attempt to go above and beyond.
Just like the policies and procedures, it’s best to use these guidelines as a reference and then customize the training and emphasis of your organization.
Keep in mind that regulations can change throughout the year, so it’s important to stay on top of the latest developments. When changes happen, your policies, procedures and trainings should all update as well.
Skip the shortcuts
On any job site, it’s natural for people to get lax when they get comfortable. Not only is this the wrong approach but it’s also incredibly dangerous. When people get too comfortable, accidents can happen, which puts everyone in jeopardy.
There are different approaches for how to deal with employees who are breaking the rules, depending on the severity of the violation. For example, someone who forgot to put their safety glasses on after using the restroom versus someone who’s reaching inside a piece of running equipment are two completely separate issues that should be dealt with accordingly.
“In the case of the person with the glasses, I would take a more behavioral safety approach, remind him or her that they forgot and monitor to make sure it doesn’t become a recurring theme,” says Geoff. “The person who’s sticking their hand in something may still get coached, but that’s when you may need to follow up with disciplinary action as well. If you cut your hand off, you’re not getting it back.”
Peer review can also be an effective way to keep people on their toes. By instilling a culture of helping each other out versus telling someone they’re doing something wrong, camaraderie can go a long way in keeping everyone safe.
“Employees look out for each other because they’re the ones doing tasks 24/7,” Geoff adds. “Safety is everyone’s job. “
Don protective gear
Employees should wear protective gear in the form of hats, gloves, glasses and shoes when they’re out on the floor. While there’s wiggle room here based on the type of facility you’re running, PPE can help minimize risks and accidents, prevent falls and keep everyone out of harm’s way.
It’s also important to enforce this rule and take appropriate action if people aren’t paying attention.
“There’s a reason we have speed limits posted – if you break the rules, you may get a ticket and depending on how fast you go, you could lose your license,” says Geoff. “It’s the same thing on the floor.”
Housekeeping is key
From a safety standpoint, housekeeping can be the difference between keeping everyone safe and creating unnecessary obstacles in the form of clutter.
“We have enough obstacles out there, we’re running pieces of machinery and we don’t need a piece of cardboard or a misplaced skid on the floor for someone to trip on,” says Geoff.
Along with putting things where they belong, he also says keeping the floors sawdust-free and in good condition can help with slipping accidents.
If your workspace is looking a little worse for the wear, it’s a good idea to allocate 10-15 minutes at the end of each shift for cleanup. If you’re a facility that’s running around the clock, then it may make sense to bring on a dedicated cleaning crew so things stay organized.
Typically, you’ll hire a crew from your current pool of employees. And at the end of the day, housekeeping comes naturally when you take pride in where you work and want to keep it looking good.
It’s the worst-case scenario: something’s gone wrong and someone is injured. Now what?
It’s crucial to open an incident investigation and identify a root cause.
“A very popular method is the ‘five why method’ where you ask why five times. For example, if someone gives you an answer, you’d respond with ‘why did that happen?’ Keep asking why until you get down to what actually contributed to the result, and then tie some type of corrective answer to it,” says Geoff.
That corrective answer could be something like updating training, fixing the equipment or examining the process more closely.
It’s a company’s job to be proactive but when something happens that requires a reactive response, you should spend time looking at the investigation. Then, put a plan into action so the same issue doesn’t happen again.
Did you know June is National Safety Month? Now is the perfect time to re-think your commitment to safety as an organization.