Handling a Wider Range of Threats

The potential of terrorism and violence complicate the "safety" landscape.

WHEN I was younger, it used to frustrate me to hear folks talk of the "good old days." As with most of us, the frustration subsided as I got older. Comparing everything from the pace of life to the cost of gasoline, a clearer understanding of the "good old days" apparently comes with age! So it is, unfortunately, with the traditionally defined safety profession. As I look back at the past five years, the challenges of the profession have changed dramatically.

Gone forever are the days of focusing strictly on the dangers of accidents caused by unforeseen circumstances and/or carelessness. As frightening as these unintentional accidents seem when they occur, the sheer scope of possible intentional events, targets, and approaches defines the term "terror" these days. And, as news accounts regularly point out, terror can range from acts perpetrated by geopolitical radicals to disgruntled employees to wayward students.

In the industrial, commercial, and municipal worlds, preparation for the almost infinitely widened scope of possible events falls to the safety community. Today, more and more safety departments are being charged with developing plans and programs to assure on-site security, as well.

Security Plan
If you stop and think about it, the largest challenge we face is the unknown. It's normal to fear circumstances that are undefined until it's too late to prepare for their consequences. Unlike preparing for traditional safety challenges, the scope of possible things that can be "done to you" today is much greater than those that can occur because of accident or carelessness. And you can't prepare for every possible eventuality, which is precisely the confusion that terrorists seek.

What you can do to make the situation more tolerable is to enhance security--by limiting access and movement without slowing down normal operations--and dramatically increase communications with authorized individuals. Enabling employees and other people who are supposed to be in a specific area to easily determine those that don't belong is a key step. Name badges for employees and guests, sign-in registers, and access restrictions are critical security measures.

Communicating about the specifics of your overall security plan and the status of compliance throughout the facility should be ongoing. Your greatest two assets in the security battle are the processes/access limitations you put into place to ensure security and the authorized people in any given area who can be trained to monitor their surroundings.

One of the most important communications tools available is standardized signage that provides access instructions, as well as directions in the event of a terrorist or other incident. Highly visible signage gives formal notice of your requisite processes and procedures while constantly reminding employees and others of the need for their personal vigilance.

There are, however, several complications to providing integrated safety and security in-plant signage. While generic safety signs are available from a variety of catalog suppliers, these generic messages and sizes often do not address the specific needs of specific applications and plant locations. This often has produced a confusing array of several safety signs, with sometimes conflicting messages, being employed in a single area. This confusion was a challenge prior to any discussion about adding security signs to the in-plant communications matrix!

To address this problem, industrial, commercial, and municipal safety professionals have increasingly moved toward using sign generation software on site. It allows them to configure tailored signs that are consistent in appearance and specific to each area in which they are hung. Additionally, this software typically provides the use of ANSI and OSHA symbols for cross-industry and multicultural understanding. The use of symbols is critical to cross-industry and multicultural operations because pictures easily can transcend language barriers.

On-site, tailored sign generation has provided safety pros with the ability to tailor multi-message signs aimed at diverse groups. The best of these software programs also provide flexibility of computer and printer compatibility, mitigating the need for specialized hardware to support on-site sign generation.

With respect to adding security messaging and symbols to the equation, on-site sign design and print software can provide full integration of homeland security symbols into its pallet of available symbols. This allows users to combine ANSI, OSHA, and homeland security symbols with appropriate textual messaging into a single sign. This is an important capability to have on a local--design and print on demand--level for the obvious precautionary and security planning purposes. However, it can become even more critical in the event of a security incident or disaster, when directional and other signs would need to be available immediately. Having homeland security symbols embedded into on-site sign preparation software also provides safety professionals with the tools necessary to make training materials for employee education on security incidents and threat levels.

The events of 9/11 and beyond have changed the face of business operations forever. However, many of the rules that govern how we plan and operate remain essentially the same: We need to continually assess our risks, take steps to mitigate them, train, and clearly communicate with our employees, asking them to be vigilant and respond properly when needed. And we need to use every tool at our disposal.

This article appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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