Steps to Protect Occupational Health and Safety and Operations

Steps to Protect Occupational Health and Safety and Operations

Workers face a wide variety of occupational hazards. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate them.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a facility is “something (such as a hospital) that is built, installed, or established to serve a particular purpose.” This is a broad definition, and to narrow it down, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified facilities into eight primary categories:  

  1. Commercial and Institutional Sector  
  2. Office Buildings  
  3. Hospitals  
  4. Laboratories  
  5. Hotels  
  6. Restaurants  
  7. Educational Facilities  
  8. Industrial  

This still encompasses many different examples of what a facility is, however, it provides a much clearer picture of how important facilities are for functioning and healthy communities. Within these important places are thousands of people making sure that your hospital is operational or that the heating in your local schools is maintained during the winter.  

Additionally, facility workers may have a number of responsibilities such as managing, repairing and cleaning buildings and infrastructure, landscape work and grounds maintenance, equipment repair and maintenance, regular facility inspection and assessment, shipping and receiving of deliveries and mail, fire and alarm and security systems management as well as consistent communication of safety practices and protocols to other employees including PPE use and safety check-ins confirming their safety. 

The Occupational Hazards of Facility Work  

As diverse as the industries they are employed in, facility workers face an equally diverse range of safety hazards when performing their jobs.  

Slips, trips and falls. No matter what the facility is, slips, trips and falls are a concern for the employees and employer. This includes falls from heights and falls on the ground from a slip or trip, resulting in head and limb injuries.  

Aging equipment. Any equipment that is not properly taken care of over time will be a safety hazard to those using it. Equipment like forklifts can be highly dangerous when not maintained or used appropriately.  

Violent members of the public. In some cases, facility workers may perform their jobs in the presence of the public. Sometimes conflict can occur, and the facility employee is at risk of injury from workplace violence and assault.2 

Toxic chemicals and gases. Working around dangerous chemicals and fumes is a risk most facility workers will face, at some point, while performing their jobs. Exposure to such chemicals and gases can result in burns, injury from collapsing, nausea and vomiting, skin rashes, development of chronic issues and diseases including cancers, respiratory conditions like asthma and organ damage.  

Mitigating These Hazards and Risks  

To combat so many different types of occupational dangers, employers must focus on some key areas to protect their people.  

Safety program. A well-planned safety program is the foundation for any safe workplace including facilities of all kinds. When building your safety program, you must build your safety protocols and policies around the data gathered by a hazard assessment and the strategies to mitigate these hazards. Safety programs must involve all levels of the organization as every person can offer valuable insight into any existing hazards and risks. The development of a safety program is not a one-time project; it requires ongoing work, adjustments and updates as changes occur within your organization, staffing, industry as well as the work itself.  

Safety culture. There may not be a concrete guide on how to build a strong safety culture, but every one of these work environments is a place where employees feel comfortable speaking up and/or reporting occupational safety hazards and concerns. They feel safe to approach their employer, without fear of retribution, about conditions that they feel impact their safety and well-being. A strong safety culture will identify hazards faster and therefore eliminate them before any harm comes to the team members.  

Most importantly, the key characteristic of a healthy safety culture is a general attitude that each employee not only has their own well-being in mind while at work, but they also have the safety of their coworkers—the people across the facility with them—in mind. This OHS-focused team mentality benefits safety as well as productivity and happiness because facility employees feel valued and cared for by the person working alongside them.  

Safety technology. With the continuous, almost-rapid advancements of technology these days, safety automation and devices are an incredible asset for protecting facility employees. Lone workers who perform jobs in facility areas where help is not readily available are at more risk than those working in pairs or teams. To monitor their safety, employers should look at the many different available safety technologies and devices such as motion sensors as well as fall and impact detection. There is a safety technology solution for almost every workplace safety challenge, so allocate enough time for research and consultation so that the best fit is chosen for the facility staff.  

Safety communication. Employees who are connected are employees who are, overall, safer because they can request emergency help when they need it. The most common communication channel is through the technology and devices previously mentioned, but it can also include simple visual and verbal signals between coworkers within the same area of the facility. When working in larger facilities and buildings, reliable communication is essential for the safety of the employees and peace of mind for their families and the employer.  

Safety planning. For your safety program, thorough, patient planning is required in order to effectively protect your workers. Beyond your written action plan and protocols, proactive safety planning should be a common, expected practice across the organization. It’s impossible to predict any accidents or the future of our workplace safety, however, proactively putting safety measures in place now could mitigate your occupational risks or at least significantly improve the organization’s emergency action plan in case of an accident. 

When planning and looking forward, make sure you also look back at the mistakes made in the past. Were there any signs beforehand? If you could get into a time machine, what would you go back and do differently? Planning now allows you to invest in the resources needed if something happens to someone working in your facility. But most importantly, planning now demonstrates that you care about your people and that it is a priority as your organization continues to succeed in the future.  

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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