The pressure's on. You just got off the phone with your boss about the latest incident report. She reminded you that safety is the company's number one priority and your mandate is to ensure safety in the workplace. But she was a little short on specifics.
We all want safer workplaces, but when you're responsible for a large staff you can't hold everyone's hand all the time. Whether you've taken on a safety manager work role recently, or you're an experienced safety expert who's just started at a new company, you can follow these steps to help reduce workplace hazards and accidents.
1. Identify Your Most Common Workplace Injuries
The likelihood of getting a grease burn at an insurance firm is pretty low, just as typing-related carpal tunnel syndrome isn't a huge concern for oil rig welders. Learn about your industry. It can be as simple as shadowing employees through a typical work day and identifying hazards.
For the big picture, look up industry-wide statistics of workplace injury reports in your jurisdiction; in the U.S., the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is a good starting point. Once you've identified the most common kinds of workplace injuries for your industry, the next step is to compare them to your company's records. Any discrepancies between your workplace and state or federal norms is a clue that it's time to play detective. What does your workplace do well? How about not so well? Does your company have more cutting injuries than the average? Your answers will help you identify your first priority.
2. A Culture of Safety in the Workplace
Your title may be the EHS Manager, but you can't be out on the floor supervising every person running equipment, nor can you stop every incident from happening. You need to trust your staff and create a culture of safety. "Culture of safety" might sound like another vague directive, but there are specific, measurable things you can do to get your staff onboard so you can trust them to take safety in the workplace seriously.
Don't Be That Guy
Speaking of trust, the first thing you can do is set an open-office policy and be the person employees can trust to take their safety concerns seriously. If your staff doesn't trust you, they won't report workplace hazards to you. Once they know you'll listen and solve the problem fairly and professionally, they'll come to you.
Does your boss worry about safety immediately after an incident report and forget about it the rest of the time? Your staff needs to get the message from every level of the organization: safety in the workplace is more important than deadlines.
If you fudge it on safety to make a deadline, you're increasing the likelihood that someone will get injured and guess what? You'll miss that deadline anyway.
Drill It In
Chances are your employees all know what they're supposed to do in the event of an emergency. But knowing isn't enough.
In a real emergency, the brain goes into fight or flight mode. And while this gives the body enough strength to move, it also hijacks rational thought processes. That's why we're prone to going back into the burning building to get our laptops.
Emergency procedures need to become part of our muscle memory. Our brains might not think straight in the midst of an emergency, but at least our bodies will know what to do. So drill it. Drill it good.
Also in the category of "mundane but necessary": regular equipment inspections. They're boring, they're repetitive and they're absolutely crucial. Don't cut corners here. Just buck up and get 'em done.
3. Who Says You Can't Reinvent the Wheel?
A few short decades ago, who thought we'd be using tablets for field work or 3-D printers for anything? One of your jobs is to take advantage of the wonderful human need to innovate. Are driving injuries the one of the most common workplace injuries you see? Get informed. Find out about safety innovations as they're released to the market.
Never assume equipment can't get safer; it does all the time. New materials are invented and old materials are repurposed. Even if you aren't reinventing the safety wheel, someone else is. Your job is to know about their work and adopt safer technologies as they're introduced.
Take the box cutter for instance. It's so widely used and responsible for countless injuries, and in spite of that its design has seen very few changes. Then Slice paired up with designers and safety experts to rethink the product and came up with what might just be the best box cutter ever.
The best thing about a safe work environment is that it's also a productive one. Accidents and injuries hurt the bottom line more than time spent on drills, education and adopting new, safer technology. So it stands to reason that reducing workplace hazards and accidents is not just common sense, it's an integral part of doing business well.