By Gary Ganson, CIH, CSP
Published in the May 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
As the cost of doing business continues to rise, one major area where organizations can improve or control costs includes worker health and safety. Recent statistics on the costs of worker injuries and illnesses identified annual costs per incident at approximately $39,000 (National Safety Council). With recordable incident rates reported by the Bureau of Labor for 2006 indicating losses between 4.5 and 5.9 cases per 100 employees, these costs can be devastating to overcome.
The costs reported here are only real and tangible to management when employees are injured or become sick on the job. But the human factor of an injury can be devastating to each individual, company, or employee group.
Worker health and safety continues to be a focus that has helped reduce losses and costs for many companies and workers. But the effort to improve is continuous and must remain a core value in conducting business.
Where To Begin?
Compliance begins with commitment to a health and safety program that’s tailored to fit the company. It must blend with its operations and culture so it can help employers maintain a system that continually addresses a focus on prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Every effective program should include management’s commitment and leadership, employee involvement, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training, and performance goals and measurement.
The responsibility for worker health and safety is a team effort. It begins with a strong management commitment and is integrated into all areas of operations. Facility managers (fms) and other supervisors need to have an understanding and working knowledge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations and the skills to implement a program.
When OSHA comes in to evaluate a company, one of the first things it looks for is a written health and safety program. Another important element is training documentation and MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), if applicable.
But health and safety programs should not be created just to meet OSHA compliance demands. They are the right thing to do.
They also create a good return on investment, because preventing employee injuries saves the company money. This is particularly important for small or newer companies, when avoiding downtime can make the difference in whether or not the company survives.
The larger the firm, the easier it is to designate a health and safety officer who can develop a safety committee. The smaller the company and the fewer the employees, the easier it is for health and safety measures to be overlooked or missed.
Ultimate responsibility for employee safety always rests at the top with the owner or manager. Typically, it is the fm or first line supervisor who is most capable of keeping workers safe. A manager or supervisor has direct, day to day contact with workers, and s/he needs to be aware of what resources and tools must be available.
However, the safest companies are those where employers and employees work together to make safety and health a priority. In collaborative safety situations, the responsibilities are equally shared in an atmosphere of fairness and applicability.
This partnership can be achieved by involving employees in health and safety policy making, creating committees, and displaying written safety and health policies for all to see. Workers engaged in facility maintenance activities are one of the best sources for recognizing hazards and supporting the prevention of injuries.
Analyzing The Problem
An important tool in a company’s safety and health program includes an initial and ongoing workplace safety audit or analysis. To conduct a worksite analysis, fms and their employees must analyze all worksite conditions to identify and eliminate existing or potential hazards.
The analysis must include observation of work practices and processes along with feedback from employees. This should be done on a regular basis, and there should be an up to date hazard analysis for all jobs and processes that employees know and understand.
It’s important to involve employees in the hazard analysis process and include their knowledge of jobs and tasks. This will help minimize oversights, ensure a quality analysis, and get workers to buy in to the solutions, since they will share ownership in the program.
Fms should review their worksite’s history of accidents and occupational illnesses that needed treatment, losses that required repair or replacement, and any “near misses” in which an accident did not occur—but could have. These are indicators that the existing hazard controls may not be adequate and can provide critical historical information to identify needed operational improvements.
Fms should discuss with their employees the hazards they know exist in their current work and surroundings. They should brainstorm with them for ideas to eliminate or control those hazards. During the process, fms should make sure to resolve any reported problems immediately instead of waiting until a job hazard analysis is complete or, even worse, an incident occurs.
An Ongoing Process
To maintain a good safety and health program, work environment and work practices should be continually reviewed to control or prevent workplace hazards. Staff should be advised to maintain all equipment regularly and thoroughly.
Fms should ensure that hazard correction procedures are in place and that all employees are trained and understand and follow safe work procedures. There are many good resources and programs that include tools for recognition and control of workplace incidents that lead to injuries or illnesses. Many include time to observe workplace behaviors and education in ways that can prevent hazardous conditions.
Fms should also guarantee that all employees who need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) receive—and know how to use and maintain their equipment. There are compliance regulations specifically pertaining to the selection and use of PPE.
If employees are working in a facility that contains hazardous material and require respirators, those workers need to be medically evaluated, fit tested, and trained to make sure they are healthy enough and understand how to wear a respirator.
If their work requires contact with, or proximity to, chemical treatment processes, MSDS must be readily available on-site. Making sure the gloves, body protection, or other barriers between chemicals and skin are made of the proper materials is also critical in protecting workers who deal with hazardous waste or work with unknown contaminants. All of these preventive measures should be regarded as a basic part of good facility management (FM) within the vast area of responsibility of the building and operations support team.
A safety checklist is a good idea, as there are so many hazards associated with building and manufacturing process management. Many items on the safety checklist address hazards that can occur before work is even started. Contact with equipment and processes, electrical lines, and buried utilities are just a few pertinent examples.
Everything on the checklist should be covered by specific training for building and facility staff members. If a job requires workers to travel to another state, some states might require specific trades to be certified (check the state’s Web site beforehand to be sure).
In an age of computers, new tools, and other such information and data, laptops are becoming a standard part of field equipment. A safety checklist should be loaded on computers or PDAs so steps can be checked off and permanent notations can be made for company compliance files.
Training Is Essential
The effectiveness of worker training can not be over emphasized. Even if a company has limited resources, this is a critical part of an effective safety and health program.
Giving workers the understanding necessary to complete a job, recognize hazards, and know how to prevent an injury must never be overlooked. Even with the many languages spoken by today’s workforce, there are again many resources available through state and federal programs to overcome language barriers and improve communications. Ultimately, this increases the effectiveness of a training program.
It is vital that everyone in the workplace be properly trained—from the janitorial staff, electricians, and HVAC engineers to the supervisors, managers, contractors, part-time employees, and temporary workers. To ensure workers are as thoroughly trained as possible, fms should hold emergency preparedness drills.
Furthermore, supervisors and managers should be trained to recognize hazards and understand their responsibilities; they are the front line in worker health and safety. Only properly authorized and instructed employees should be allowed to do certain jobs. Particular attention should be paid to employees learning new operations, just to make sure they have the proper job skills and hazard awareness.
Hazards often overlooked by a facility’s maintenance staff include confined spaces, lockout systems, electrical systems, treatment chemicals, and ergonomic stresses. It is very important that facility maintenance managers have provided their staff with the necessary tools, resources, and training to ensure they are effectively educated in preventing loss related incidents.
Employees are the most valuable resource, and the human interaction and protection of life on the job is a responsibility never to be taken for granted. Given the right information, training, tools, and PPE, workers will be safe on the job and work more productively.
A health and safety plan is only as good as the company’s compliance with that plan. For a new company, a hazard assessment has to be made, and a health and safety plan has to be in place before the work begins.
Just like the equipment maintenance log that ensures systems are in good condition, compliance with a safety program is an essential management tool, a smart business practice, and a moral obligation.
Ganson is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIS), Certified Safety Professional (CSP), and EHS Group Manager for Environmental Terracon of Lenexa, KS. He has 30 years of experience in worker health and safety, and is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
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