Is Your Workplace a Killer?

Is your workplace a killer? No? The people who worked at the warehouse where John Petropoulos died likely didn't think so, either. But guess what? Their workplace was a killer ... and it left me a widow.

On Sept. 29, 2000, Cst John Petropoulos of the Calgary Police Service responded to a break and enter complaint at a warehouse. He went into the building with the K-9 officer and his dog. John went up to the mezzanine level to search for the intruder and stepped from a safe surface directly onto an unmarked false ceiling. He fell 9 feet into the lunchroom below and within hours succumbed to a massive brain injury.

He was 32. We both were.

The break and enter complaint turned out to be unfounded; there was no intruder in the building. Rather, it was a false alarm -– the third that night -– caused by the wind. The subsequent investigation revealed that, according to OH&S legislation, there should have been a safety railing in place to warn him or anyone else of the danger. Anyone could have fallen where John did.

However, it was likely a familiar danger to those who worked at the warehouse on a regular basis because there was a warning sign hanging from the roof, 10 feet past the actual hazard. So when John went into those unfamiliar surroundings in the dark to do his job, he didn't stand a chance.

"If our job as law enforcement officers is to protect the public and their interests," said Darren Leggatt, the K-9 officer who went into the building with John, "the reality is that people need to take efforts to protect us while we're protecting them."

Emergency workers -– police officers, firefighters and paramedics -– have dangerous jobs, yes. However, when communities work together and people begin to perceive the issue of workplace safety as a shared responsibility, there are ways to help minimize the risks these workers face on a daily basis.

Whether you work in a shopping mall, office building, warehouse, manufacturing plant, construction site, or on a ranch, farm, oil rig, or refinery, there are actions you can take to ensure emergency responders make it home safely to their families after every shift. And if you make your workplace safe for emergency workers who may or may not have to attend your premises, you make it safer for everyone -– including your own colleagues, visitors, and service workers.

Put Yourself in Their Boots
Turn off the lights, trigger the alarm, and put yourself in the boots of emergency responders who could be at your workplace during an emergency, such as a fire, crime in progress, or medical crisis. Take a moment to look around. Your workplace is their workplace ... is it safe?

No? Then make the change and save a life.

Here's are tangible tips to make your workplace safe for everyone:

  • Remove all broken glass, sharp objects, tools, spills, and debris. K-9 dogs may have to walk through broken glass and hazardous chemicals. In a fire, firefighters often have to crawl on their knees.
  • Keep hallways and exits clear of clutter. Firefighters work with limited amounts of air and need to move through and exit buildings quickly during a fire; every second counts. Paramedics navigate hallways with stretchers.
  • Emergency exits should NEVER be locked, blocked, or chained. If there is an EXIT sign above a door, people must be able to exit.
  • Ensure safe storage of pallets and other stacked materials. Lighter items should be on top shelves; heavier items below.
  • Ensure safe storage of hazardous and flammable materials.
  • Keep alleyways and sidewalks clear and accessible for emergency vehicles and personnel. Uncleared snow on a sidewalk can significantly slow a stretcher.
  • Install safety railings/guards and toe rails.
  • Secure all scaffolding.
  • Obtain a permit for all renovations. Have renovations done by a professional.
  • Ensure proper placement of signage. Post close to the actual danger. Keep signage current for dangers and hazards that change.
  • Ensure open holes are covered. This is particularly important in industrial yards and especially where there is no sensor lighting. Deal with culverts and sinkholes immediately.
  • Ensure proper functioning of alarm systems. Test them regularly. Deal with malfunctions and false alarms promptly.
  • Ensure access points to construction sites are clearly marked for emergency services. At construction sites, stop overhead cranes and swinging loads when emergency responders are on scene.
  • Conduct a regular hazard assessment by asking yourself: What could go wrong here? What can I do to make sure nothing goes wrong here?

How you can make the roads safer for emergency workers:

  • Pay attention
  • Avoid distractions, such as talking on a cell phone, texting, eating, and applying make-up.
  • Check your rear view mirror regularly.
  • Yield to emergency vehicles with lights activated.If an emergency vehicle comes up behind you, get out of the way in the safety possible manner.
  • Slow down when passing emergency responders -– and their vehicles -– when they are stopped on the road, and give them room to work.

Apparently, the people who worked at the warehouse where John died felt terrible about what happened. However, since death has the final say, there are no words or actions that can bring him back. All that can be done is to learn from the circumstances that led to his death and incorporate these lessons into creating a culture of safety that includes all.

What may be a very simple action on your part could lead to the prevention of a death or serious injury. As for those of us left behind, you could be preventing years of heartache.

Posted by Maryanne Pope on Nov 10, 2011

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