by Shel Segal
November 2, 2011

For many people, listening to a safety lecture or following safety rules is viewed as an infringement of their freedom, questioning of their intelligence or just a plain waste of time.

But for Jerry Bach, vice president of the Sacramento, CA-based Safety Center Incorporated, teaching safety and having a safety plan in place is important.

Bach said he just "want(s) everybody to go home at night. You can't believe how many people are dying out there in the workplace. Safety is required by law, but we want people to go home at night."

According to a report published by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 84,000 people-enough people to fit into two sold out baseball games-died in workplace accidents from 1992 through 2005. In fact, more than 5,700 people lost their lives in the workplace last year alone. More than fifteen people in this country died every day from calamities on the job, the report stated.

However, the 2005 figure is down 1 percent over 2004 and has dropped 14 percent from a high of more than 6,600 work-related fatalities in 1994, the report stated.

But Bach just cannot accept these statistics.

To fight this epidemic, several states have passed laws mandating that companies, depending on their size, must have safety and hazard plans of action that their employees must follow. These plans have to be implemented consistently in order to be successful.

There are eight components that should make up every workplace safety and injury prevention program. They are:

  • Hazard assessment
  • Hazard correction
  • Responsibility
  • Accident investigation
  • Training
  • Compliance
  • Documentation/recordkeeping
  • Communication

While some of these areas cross-over into one another, sometimes they just stand on their own. Let's take a look:

There cannot be a safe environment unless the surroundings are assessed with the idea of determining what could be or become a safety hazard, known as hazard recognition. For example, is there something on the floor that could make it slippery and unsafe on which to walk? Are there frayed wires coming out of an electrical socket? There is no way to know how safe your environment really is until you look around for things that could be harmful or even fatal.

If safety hazards are found through a safety inspection, they need to be corrected. Those wires need to be fixed. The floor needs to be mopped.

Uncorrected hazards can cost the company thousands of dollars in fines, lost worker time and workers' compensation fees. Safety inspections lead to more safe and healthful work environments for everyone.

Both the tasks of hazard assessment and hazard correction lead to responsibility. If there was a problem or there were problems; the person in charge-either the business owner or even a shift foreman-fixed the problems properly and assumed responsibility for making the environment safe once again.

Unfortunately, despite even the most stringent safety programs, accidents and workplace fatalities still occur. Accident investigation is an essential component of a workplace safety program that addresses those accidents and fatalities that do occur and helps to prevent future incidents.

An investigation, performed either internally or externally by a regulatory or government agency, should identify the root cause for the incident. Was there adequate training? Were identified hazards not taken seriously at the time they were reported? Were safety regulations just ignored? These questions will most likely be answered by an accident investigation.

An investigation should also take place when a "near miss" accident occurs. The Federal Aviation Administration, for example, requires an investigation when two planes in the sky or on a runway get too close to one another and almost collide. A "near miss" might just have been a stroke of luck, and those involved might not be so lucky next time.

Just because there is no injury or fatality, does not necessarily mean all safety procedures were followed. That means an honest, open investigation is still warranted to protect everyone in the workplace, to ensure all safety guidelines are being followed and that there are proper safety procedures in place.

The best way, however, to keep your workplace accident and fatality is to properly train employees in the company's safety policies. They also need to know how to identify hazards and correct violations as they see them.

Employees need to know they can come to management with their valid complaints without fear of retaliation or unwarranted disciplinary action. Employees also need to know they will not be harassed by their peers and be subject to unwanted "peer pressure" just because they were brave enough to come forward and identify something that made the work environment unsafe.

If all these steps are being followed, that means the work environment will be a safer place. Employees can be recognized for keeping the work area safe and free from hazards. Safety incentive programs can be as simple as verbal praise or as complex as games and prize giveaways to consistently safe employees.

The down side to not being in compliance with safety standards is that injuries can occur. Injuries usually affect those who are very new on the job, as their lack of experience makes them very vulnerable to hurting themselves. But injuries can also affect those who have been on the job the longest, have never gotten hurt and have become complacent with the attitude, "It hasn't happened to me yet. Why would it happen now?"

However, the whole point is that it can happen and with terrible consequences.

If an accident or fatality happens in the workplace, it needs to be accurately documented on paper. The scene needs to be re-created verbally, and witnesses need to be interviewed to determine what exactly went wrong. While this overlaps with the investigation phase, it is everyone's best defense, especially if the incident moves into legal circles.

Finally, the last area of an essential workplace safety program is communication. Those following standards need to be told. In turn, those not following standards also need to be aware of what they are doing wrong as they can hurt or kill themselves or others. Also, company owners and supervisors need to make sure they communicate both positive and negative messages to their employees to ensure nothing horrific happens in the workplace.

The number of fatal work injuries has been steadily dropping in this country since 1994, and with more stringent laws and companies with safety and hazard contingency plans in the works, the hope is that number will continue to fall to zero.

 
Construction Business Owner, December 2006