How many times have you had someone proudly declare, “We have a safety culture here?” You tour a plant or a facility and you see everyone wearing safety glasses, safety shoes, or gloves. You look over and see the sign that shows 473 days without a lost time accident. They have yellow lines on the floor, a first aid kit on the wall, and maybe an AED in the corner. It all looks very impressive, until someone actually gets hurt.
The truth is for a safety program to be effective, it needs to constantly evolve. New equipment arrives in a plant, chemicals change, processes change, and the safety program must address these changes as well. Safety Data Sheet (SDS) books must be updated, and exits, electrical panel and fire extinguishers must remain clear. Safety must be practiced every day. It can’t be the “flavor of the week,” because someone could get hurt or experience a life changing event for the worse.
A safety program has to be supported by everyone. If a department of machinists is required to wear safety glasses, but the supervisor doesn’t wear them, you can expect disgruntled employees. They will complain that they have to wear them, and when the supervisor is off in a meeting or not around, the employees won’t have them on. They may even ask, “Why do I have to follow safety standards when my supervisor doesn’t.” Even when they wear them, they will not don them for the right reasons, which is to protect them from an eye injury.
A safety program also needs to be more than filling out a report to detail an injury or an accident. It is important that the corporate culture fosters an environment where employees report injuries, even the minor ones. If employees fear reprisals or believe that reporting the injury will not lead to improvements, they will not report it. They will not want to “get in trouble” or waste their time. Documenting an accident and collecting data is important, but what are you going to do with it? If you don’t use the data as an opportunity to make changes that will prevent future injuries, then your program and culture are both flawed. Accidents and injuries do happen. The goal should be to prevent future occurrences. For example, an employee suffers a laceration, and first aid is rendered. The next step is to do an investigation. If you find out his injury is happened because his skin was caught on a rough surface, how can a similar injury be prevented? One solution would be to supply cut resistant gloves.
Training is another critical component. Having weekly safety huddles and monthly training will create awareness and reinforce the importance of safety. As you conduct these trainings, the primary benefit is that you have honest dialogues where the people who perform the daily functions will express concerns or make safety suggestions. Having a safety suggestion program where employees are rewarded for making actionable safety suggestions is very important. Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility and the goal is that everyone returns home safely and in the manner they came to work.
Harold Strassler is Sonny’s Facilities and Safety Manager and is responsible for all facility maintenance and safety initiatives. Harold has over 14 years of facility management and safety experience and is OSHA 30 certified. Harold can be reached at HStrassler@sonnysdirect.com.