By Janet L. Keyes, CIH Carol A. Keyes, CSP
“People wouldn’t get hurt if they just showed some common sense.”
“It was just bad luck.”
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“There wasn’t anything we could do about it.”
“I can’t control what my employees do.”
What do those statements have in common? Besides “I’ve heard them all,” all are false. Do you think a traffic cop would accept any of those excuses if you ran over a child? That’s extreme – but it gets to the heart of why we have safety programs and training. You can’t simply assume that employees know how to do everything right. And if you cannot control what employees do, how can you provide any quality guarantee to customers?
Common sense comes from experience, knowledge, and training. I think siphoning gasoline by mouth shows a lack of common sense, because I know how flammable gasoline is, how it can cause chemical pneumonia if aspirated, and how damaging it can be from repeated exposure. But I have knowledge and training on chemical hazards. You might know it is a bad idea because you tried it and swallowed some gas. You won’t be doing that again.
You want employees to gain knowledge and training without going through painful learning experiences. So, how do you know what safety precautions to follow? OSHA regulations explain most of them. (OSHA regulations usually developed out of other people’s painful experiences.)
Many of the regulations can be lumped into three big categories: things people do, building issues, and equipment use. The latter often reflects building codes.
Things People Do
They work with chemicals. So provide training on the hazards of chemicals and on how to find out more about those hazards.
They might wear respirators. Make sure they’re healthy enough to wear the respirator comfortably. Ensure it’s the right type for the job, based both on whether it removes the right contaminants and on whether it provides the right amount of protection. Verify that it fits well enough to give them enough protection. Have them keep it clean, so they don’t develop face rashes from it.
They’re exposed to noise. When they grind, sand, machine, or work with compressed air, they’re exposed to eye hazards. So you need to provide them with ear, eye and face protection, and make sure they know how and when to use it.
Electrical, fire, and life safety codes predate OSHA and are updated more frequently than OSHA standards. If you’re in compliance with those, you probably are in compliance with a lot of OSHA requirements.
Are you prepared for emergencies? Can people get out quickly and easily? If the fire is small, do they have fire extinguishers at hand and know how to use them?
You don’t want electrical fires. You don’t want to shock people. So guard all live electrical components. Don’t overload circuits. Use wiring that’s up to code.
Fires will put you out of business. You can reduce the risk. Store flammable liquids in appropriate containers and appropriate locations. Don’t spray flammables anywhere other than a sprinklered paint booth. Check for fire risks before anyone welds or uses a torch.
Most equipment and tools meet standards for safety and reliability. But they need to be used the way they were intended to be used, according to the manufacturers’ guidelines. Whether you own the equipment or it belongs to your employees, require that it be kept in good condition.
Where do employees get the knowledge and training on safety hazards? Certainly, in part, from vocational training and continuing education. But they also learn a lot from their managers and coworkers. You need to ensure that they learn the right way. An example: nearly every vo-tech requires that students wear safety glasses whenever they are in the shop and welding helmets when appropriate. But once they start working in a shop where no one wears safety glasses, that habit disappears.
That brings up the next part of having a strong safety program: enforcement. If you can direct employees to work on this pink car, even if they hate pink, you can direct them to wear safety glasses. But you need to lead by example. It’s really hard to get employees to do something you refuse to do.
The final part of a strong safety program: think about and write down what you’re doing. OSHA requires documented safety programs for respirators, personal protective equipment use, and hearing conservation. Minnesota OSHA now requires an AWAIR program, which is essentially a general safety program (how will you identify hazards? Communicate? Enforce?). Why? Creating those written programs means you have to think about who is responsible for different aspects and how you’ll implement them.
You’ve used your experience, knowledge, and training to create a successful business. You know that running a business takes more than hiring employees and telling them “just do it.” To keep your business successful, you need to keep your employees working – and that means keeping them working safely. Plan for that, just as you plan for your company’s continued success.
This article originally appeared in AASP News (November 2020). It is intended to provide general information (no advice) about current safety topics. To discuss your specific concerns and how CHESS may help, please contact CHESS at 651-481-9787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.