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Accidents not ‘the cost of doing business’

Scott Alquist

You grab a cup of coffee, drive to work, punch in and begin the day’s activities. A typical morning. That is until your whole world changes: a workplace accident seriously injures one of your employees. Think this is a long shot? Not really. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds an average of 3,900 American workers are gravely harmed at the workplace each day.

Even with the newest technologies, increased government safety regulations and a workforce that prides itself on a good and safe job, accidents still happen. Some managers believe this is the cost of doing business. Well, maybe 50 years ago this concept was accepted, but not any longer. With increased insurance costs, production losses and even the possibility of generating a negative public perception, companies can no longer afford to roll the dice when it comes to worker safety.

Over the past few years, many companies have fallen victim to the above issues. Two years ago, it seemed we could not go a week without reading about an accident or fatality involving the Las Vegas construction industry. The involved companies received bad press coverage, were named in lawsuits and forced to provide 10- or 30-hour construction safety training to all employees, resulting in increased costs and damaged reputations.

You can avoid these types of unfortunate events by taking a hard look at what your company can do in the New Year.

With the onset of 2012, most of us will make our usual resolutions: lose weight, quit smoking or try to be a better person. Businesses should also make some New Year’s resolutions to positively impact the year. Resolutions like updating safety policies, setting training goals and schedules, and implementing a more aggressive audit and inspection procedure. By addressing these types of issues early in the year, it is less likely they will fall off the radar when your business gears up in 2012.

Recent changes in government mandates will require the above corporate resolutions. The Global Harmonization System (GHS), introducing new chemical safety regulations, will require massive changes to your company’s hazard communication program. GHS will require businesses to

* Audit or inspect your facilities,

* Inventory all chemicals,

* Update your written program,

* Replace existing material safety data sheets with the new “safety data sheets,”

* Update labeling and

* Train all of your affected workers.

All of these actions are required to remain in compliance with OSHA standards. But other mandates also require companies to take action. Lockout/tagout requires annual program reviews, while confined space rules specify programs and training be updated when new spaces are introduced into the workplace or new hazards are identified in existing spaces.

If you have an in-house spill response team, they must receive annual training updates. If your company generates hazardous waste, then OSHA requires an annual refresher training. And, if your company generates more than 220 pounds of hazardous waste a month, the EPA requires initial and annual refresher training as well.

The Department of Transportation also mandates initial training requirements for companies that ship or cause to ship hazardous materials. These trainings must be updated every three years or whenever new chemicals or procedures are implemented. As you can see, the list is rather long and each of these requires inspections and updates, just to satisfy the training requirements. So by creating a matrix of training topics and inspection schedules, the ability to not only meet the regulations but to provide for a safe workforce can be much easier.

More important than just training and programs, is fostering the necessary “safety culture.” Short cuts and inattention injure workers, but also affect production quality as well. Supervisors can create this culture with three very simple actions: lead by example, reward and discipline.

There have been occasions where I have performed a safety audit after an event attributed to management not leading by example. One particular instance involved an employee suffering a serious eye injury. After meeting with the company’s owner, I was asked to review the work area and make recommendations. When we approached the doors that lead from the office to the production area, I noticed a sign, “Safety glasses required in this area.” I had brought mine, but the owner wasn’t wearing any. I asked him if he needed a minute to go and get his glasses. He replied, “That’s for the workers. We’ll be fine because we’re not operating the equipment, we’re just walking around.” Imagine what message that sent to the employees.

The second action is to reward. By implementing some form of recognition, you can show you do care about your employees’ safety. And it doesn’t need to be over the top. Actions such as recognizing an individual or department in a company newsletter or posting on the employee bulletin board, $25 or $50 gift cards, or possibly even a small get-together and cater in pizza, can make an impact on your workforce. While these actions may cost little, the return on this investment is worthwhile: a better employee attitude, resulting in a safety culture.

Finally, there is discipline for those that do not or will not follow the rules. Under a Nevada Revised Statute, just about all companies are required to create a Written Workplace Safety Program (WWSP). One of the mandatory sections is discipline for safety infractions. These need to be commensurate with the violation and must be communicated to all employees. These policies apply to all employees, from the newest hired worker to the management and owners.

Make 2012 the safest year ever.

Your business can strive for perfection a “Zero Accident” 2012 by simply following the steps in this column. Remember, just a little concerted effort can go a long way.

Scott Alquist is safety manager at Truckee Meadows Community College, where he is responsible for public safety classes and contract business and industry training in safety and government compliance. Contact him at salquist@tmcc.edu or 857-4958.


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