By: Kathy Kent Toney, President of Kent Business Solutions
Part 1 of a 3-Part Series:
Keeping Your Employees Safe
Are you challenged with knowing the best ways to keep your employees safe? Don’t have an idea of where to start? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be interviewing Andrew “Drew” Brought. He’s an attorney with Spencer Fane and an expert in the areas of Environmental, Health and Safety. Drew counsels manufacturers, industrial clients, and businesses with complex environmental and workplace safety/OSHA matters.
He brings a wealth of experience to the table for his clients, and I’m excited that I get to share some of his wisdom with you!
But before we get into the interview, I’d like to share a funny video from The Office on what workplace safety attitudes and results you SHOULDN’T be aiming for.
Let’s get started on this week’s topic that’s centered around general workplace safety:
4 Best-Practice Steps for Keeping Your Employees Safe
Kathy: thanks for joining me today, Drew! Let’s dig into what these steps are.
Drew: First, you’ll want to…
1. Understand Your Obligations
This involves understanding what are the rules I need to be following, what universe am I living in. We’re talking about all kinds of industries, which makes this a bit of a challenge, because we’re painting with a big brush.
First, there are general duties all employees need to follow, but then there are specific industry standards that relate to how work should be conducted in the workplace. Without knowing the specific industry, it’s difficult to define this here; however, here are just a few examples of what this might look like.
In manufacturing or construction, there are specific standards for people who are working with heights and the types of protection they need, whether it’s how they use ladders, how they might be tied off, etc. That’s one specific standard. Another specific standard might be the PPE they are required to wear…gloves, hats, boots, etc.
Another example is if you have employees that are working on an assembly line. Lock-Out, Tag-Out is used in this instance. This ensures that if there is an energy-controlled system, whether it’s electricity or hydraulic or pneumatic, you don’t have people working on equipment while it’s operating.
If you have individuals going to work that are in what’s called a “confined space”, you have a Confined Space Entry Program. If you have someone entering into a tank or enclosed area, where there may not be much oxygen, or where there is a risk of chemicals, you have to make sure that those employees are protected.
If you’re doing welding work, for example, you’ll need a fire watch or a hot permit.
Another common one is people who are working with equipment and tools, and protecting them from pinch points and amputation hazards. Doing that kind of analysis, making sure that you have barriers in place to prevent them from sticking their arms in the equipment, is essential.
If you’d like more info on this, the OSHA website* has industry-specific standards and resources you can check out. There’s also a lot of great information to help with COVID-19 issues.
Takeaway: The most important thing is to understand the requirements.
Drew: Second, you want to…
2. Determine the Risks
Globally, you’re going to start big. You’ll want to determine the different elements you’ll need to know about in order to protect employees. It’s like a funnel…you’ll go from big and dive down into the specific job or task you want to analyze.
Before someone sits down to perform a job, you’ll want to do a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) or a Task Hazard Analysis (THA) analysis. Say you have an employee doing XYZ on a piece of equipment. You’ll want to ask yourself:
Not only have we looked at the workplace as a whole, but also at an individual level. Once you’ve done this, it doesn’t necessarily have to be repeated. For instance, in the manufacturing sector, tasks in a lot of areas are repeatable, like an assembly line on a manufacturing floor with employees doing the same thing day-in and day-out, 24-hours a day. You know what the risks are and how to mitigate them.
In construction, this may not be the case. You may have to create a new JHA or THA for jobs when you are creating something new, because there are new risks that haven’t been presented before. This happens a lot in the construction industry.
Takeaway: If it’s a new process that needs to be followed with new risks presented, a JHA or THA is a good thing to do.
Next, you want to…
3. Develop Policies and Procedures
This is combination of working from the engineering standpoint, the process standpoint and the HR standpoint…bringing that together to develop a set of operational procedures and controls that mitigate the risks.
It’s so important that employees understand these procedures and controls and that they can be easily implemented. You don’t want to give someone a 500-page operating procedure and say “here you go…good luck with it”. It may be great from an engineering and safety standpoint, but they won’t follow it.
Takeaway: If it’s not easily digestible, you have to organize it in a way that is ultimately understood.
Drew: the last step is…
4. Implement Workplace Controls
Employees should understand the risks they are facing are and be initially trained on those risks. Then, they need to be tested on their understanding.
Equally important, it’s best to go back over time and double-check that they still understand these risks. Like any of us, they can’t remember everything. That’s where “Refresher Training” comes in. That the buzzword in our industry. Once they pass the initial test, you don’t leave it at that. Oversight is so important. We want to make sure that the risks continue to be mitigated.
Here’s an example: an employee could be trained three years before, and now if he or she is in a more dangerous role, it’s crucial to regularly maintain this oversight and follow-up. Plan for regular Refresher Training and audit their work environment to make sure they are doing what they need to be doing.
Takeaway: Have proper workplace controls in place that involves initial training/testing on risks. It's extremely important to make sure employees understand these controls over time through Refresher Training.
Kathy: great advice! I remember when I worked at Honeywell we had yearly, if not more that, training on health and safety best practices. Then we got tested on it. and I worked in an office!
This has been great, Drew! In closing, what would you say are the two most important high-level things an employer can do around ensuring employee safety?
Drew: I think most important is…
Having the dedication and culture that wants to have a safe workforce. That’s first and foremost.
Second would be literally having line items around safety, or people who have ownership/accountability of that issue.
If you don’t have an organization that’s committed to health and safety, that’s a problem. Number 2, if you don’t have accountability and individuals that are doing this, that’s a problem as well.
You know how it works, Kathy…if an organization is not funding this and is not dedicated to it and doesn’t have someone internally overseeing this, it’s not going to happen.
Kathy: that’s right. You have to have top-level management supporting it; otherwise, employees aren’t going to be following the guidelines. I've seen this a lot over the years in my line of work.
Well, that's a wrap for today. Thank you for your time, Drew! I look forward to our future conversations.
Drew: my pleasure.
Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for additional topics with Drew. He’ll be discussing answers to the following questions:
Speaking of questions, here's one for you...are there other areas of your business you'd like to improve, but don't know where to start?
Then take my free business assessment! You'll receive a customized report that will give you an easy-to-understand roadmap to help you achieve your profitability goals.
Check it out...I'd love to add value to you and your organization in any way that I can!
*For more information on workplace safety, you can also check out the EPA and CDC websites.