Accidents Will Happen ...
If You Let Them
by Dale Malcolm
Its Thursday afternoon and it has been a tough week. One of your employees is on vacation and the remaining members of your staff have been filling in. Your work schedule is finally coming together, and there is a good chance it will be completed by the end of the week. You notice the shop is unnaturally quiet. The silence is broken when one of your best auto glass technicians comes through the door with his hand wrapped in about three hundred paper towels. He tells you he sliced it open while cutting out a windshield. You load him in your car and drive him to the nearest emergency room for stitches. So much for getting all the work done this week.
As the manager or owner whom do you blame for this accident? How do you avoid it in the future? Do you have a formal safety program, or do you just tell the employees to be careful? If you do not have a safety program, the accident is your fault. It does not matter how stupid or careless the accident was. If the employee was not trained in the safe way to perform his or her job the responsibility clearly lies with management. Refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Act of 1970 to see the exact requirements mandated for each employer.
In the eyes of the law, it is not enough to provide safety equipment. You must have written safety policies and a written safety training program. These must address the hazards to which your employees are exposed. You also must document the enforcement of all programs and policies.
If there was a serious accident where more than four employees are hospitalized or one or more are killed, the first question an OSHA investigator would ask is was the employee trained? If the answer was yes, you would then be asked to hand over those records showing such training. Annual safety training is very important to keep all employees up to date about the latest safety policies and procedures. The safety meetings also reinforce a culture of safety.
A good safety program starts with complete commitment by management. Complete commitment means you would be willing to terminate an otherwise good employee if he or she continually refuses to follow company safety policies and procedures. Allowing even one person to break the rules will undermine the best of safety programs. Are all of your supervisors and managers committed to making the program work? Your supervisors must lead by example and enforce the safety rules every time an employee does not follow the program. Do you believe all accidents are avoidable? At any given time and situation there is a limited number of possible accidents and, with enough time and resources, all possible accidents could be avoided. Though you will probably never avoid them all, the only sensible goal is zero accidents.
Where do you start once you have decided to start a safety program?
You need to find out what frequently injures your employees. Gather up the accident and illness records for the last three to five years. Break the injuries down into groups or categories, including lacerations (cuts), foreign objects (eye injuries), strains and sprains, illnesses and miscellaneous soft tissue injuries. You can break these down further if you wish. However, if you slice the categories too thin you may not see a pattern or trend as easily.
You may also want to gather the costs associated with each injury or illness. I recommend that you record the experience level, product or tool being used, job title, type of work being done, time and date of injury, accident location (shop/mobile location) and any other facts about the injury that might show a trend.
I have learned over the years to not completely trust my perceptions when it comes to patterns of injuries. The ability to objectively examine the situations in which your employees are injured will allow you to save time and money. Many times, the facts will show that the accidents you perceive to be the most common occur less likely than other accidents. Once you know what the most frequent type of accident or injury is, you can take steps to eliminate the cause of the hazard and protect your employees from future problems.
An effective Safety Program does not have to take a lot of time or money to create and manage.
There are a lot of sources of safety information available. The Government Printing Office sells a CD-ROM that contains all OSHA Regulations on one disc. The cost is minimal for a subscription of four updates per year.
Go to the online bookstore at the GPO Website (www.gpo.gov) to order it. The CD-ROM is called the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Regulations, Documents and Technical Information #729-013-00000-5. Your state capital will usually have a state run or federally run OSHA office with hundreds of free booklets and handouts about all aspects of workplace health and safety.
Remember, the employees in the OSHA Offices are there to help you create a safer workplace for yourself and your employees. You can also find safety information at these sites: www.blr.com; www.jjkeller.com; www.osha.gov; www.labsafety.com; www.coastal.com.
Dale Malcolm is technical services supervisor with Essex ARG of Dayton, OH.
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