Safety Beyond the Basics: What Can We Do to Be Prepared?

If we can allow employees adequate time to plan, review technical information, practice, and check available resources, together we can reduce the workplace fatalities each year.

When it comes to safety, the top priority for any employer, at a minimum, is to comply with the OSHA standards. Many companies have come to the realization that safety is not a hindrance, but rather an opportunity to stand apart from the other companies they are competing against. Unfortunately, there are still a few companies that have not seen the light and still hurt or kill employees. Most of us have seen the statistics highlighting that more than 5,100 workers died on the job in 2016 and which industries are the severe violators. I know I have used that data in a few courses I have taught over the years. There are many areas that we as safety professionals can work on to help raise awareness of the low frequency/ high hazards tasks in our workplaces.

For several years, I had the pleasure of helping numerous companies comply with the required OSHA standards. I worked for one of the state-operated consultation projects. It was great to be invited into a company and help them foster a safety conscious culture that embraced the safety and health of their employees. Not every company was fully open to the help we provided at first, but they did eventually see that our passion was to see them succeed. We worked with a few right after a major event, such as a fatality, had occurred. These were the ones that showed the strongest commitment to make the necessary changes to ensure the safety of their employees, because they knew the price that was paid, both financially and emotionally, for not committing to safety.

One unfortunate aspect of the consultation project was there were so many companies that requested our assistance, we were not able to devote the time necessary to take them beyond the basics of a safety program. We were working with limited manpower and resources, on top of the fact that many companies did not even have a basic safety program. A dusty three-ring binder with programs years old was not uncommon to find when we arrived on our first visit. We would help them establish the groundwork and provide what resources and time we could, but there were times we could not fully ensure they had a good grasp on how to properly safeguard against the low frequency/high hazards and sometimes overlooked tasks in their workplace. Many did not dedicate the necessary time to safety, especially not to emergencies that may occur. Even basic fire drills were not conducted. What can we do to help advance safety for everyone we work with?

In the last couple of months, I took advantage of an opportunity to expand my knowledge as a safety professional and learn a more specialized side of the industry. I now work for a company that specializes in the low-frequency and extremely high-hazard events that can happen in just about every workplace. We provide training and on-site standby services in hazmat, confined space, confined space rescue, high-angle rope rescue, suspended work rescue, as well as many other training topics. For me this has been an eye opener and helped me realize that there is so much more to safety than just what is written in the CFRs. Many of my new co-workers have years of fire and rescue training because they are or were career firefighters. I came into the company with a good working knowledge of the OSHA requirements but lacked in some of the more technical emergency response and rescue knowledge.

How Can We Stay Prepared?
Working with companies on addressing hazards that are beyond the basics has been an amazing opportunity. One thing that I have seen since I started is how perishable infrequently used knowledge is. Some of the training we conduct is for companies that have gone through the extensive initial courses and have come back for an annual refresher. What I have seen is the employees may recall some of the basic or more known information but have trouble recalling some of the more technical knowledge. A few have commented that the only time they practice is when they come back for the refresher classes. In one respect this is good, because they are staying safe and do not have to use the technical training, but on the other hand they may not be as prepared as they may need to be when an emergency arises.

What can we do to be prepared? I know that a company's time resource, especially when it is related to production, is tightly controlled, but there are some things we can do to help keep our safety and emergency knowledge fresh. Here are a few things we can do to help everyone stay prepared:

  • Dedicate time. During slower production times or downtimes, dedicate time to rehearse emergency scenarios. This helps to solidify an employee's reaction in emergency situations to muscle memory. Bad situations can have positive outcomes if everyone involved knows what to do as if the action were an instinct.
  • Keep the information fresh. If you have an on-site rescue team, allow them some time to regularly meet and discuss possible scenarios in the facility. As a trainer, there is only so much that we can do to prepare teams to respond. Even if we are fortunate enough to train at the facility, we only have a limited amount of time to work on site-specific scenarios. If we can give employees time to plan courses of action, they will be better prepared to respond.
  • Check your resources. Whether the resources are on-site supplies and personnel or outside agencies, as an employer, you need to ensure you have adequate resources to meet your needs. Numerous times, employers' written programs indicate that they will "call 911" if emergency situations were to occur. Unfortunately, a little digging uncovers information that the local responders are not trained and do not have the adequate equipment to respond to the facilities' situations. In more rural areas, I have visited many fire departments that are strictly volunteer, with maybe one part-time person who maintains equipment between calls.

If we can allow employees adequate time to plan, review technical information, practice, and check available resources, together we can reduce the workplace fatalities each year.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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