By: Kevin B. Keith, Director of Safety Services, ABC Keystone
Whether you are just starting to address safety in the workplace, or whether your company has had safety policies and procedures in place for years, assessing and reassessing hazards in the workplace can seem like a daunting task at times. In particular, if you are new to safety, you might be wondering where to begin. In addressing this issue I recommend the following basic steps: consider the hazards that your workers are exposed to on any given day; create a plan to address those hazards; develop a training program that makes employees more aware of the hazards and provides details of how they are to protect themselves; allow for employee input; and finally, monitor employees to ensure that they are following the plan and identify any areas that should be improved.
Identifying where to start can seem a much larger issue then what it really is. Involvement of employees to provide input can go a long way for creating an improved safety culture. Observing work tasks, asking questions, creating a safety committee, and having an open door policy related to safety concerns are just a couple of suggestions on how to increase employee involvement. Workers can quickly identify safety concerns with certain tasks just based on their experiences. They develop a work pattern that not only allows for completion of the task but also allows them to do it safely. Caution should be taken if this is the only method of collecting information, because sometimes workers’ habits are not always the best method to complete a task safely. Combining the observations with a review or the company’s OSHA Logs will better pinpoint areas of concern. Hazardous tasks can be prioritized by looking at the severity and frequency that a serious or fatal injury could occur. Tasks that have the highest concern, based on the severity and frequency classifications, should be addressed first. Once the priority areas are identified and ranked as potential areas of concern, complete a documented Job Hazard Analysis for the specific task. The analyses should consider the key functions of the task and should be limited to no more than ten steps. Maintain the records of the analysis and use it in the creation of a plan to address the hazards.
Creating a plan to address the hazards is still considered a part of completing the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). Each key step of the task should be reviewed, and any hazards associated with that step should be identified. Once the hazards are identified, the person completing the analysis can do some research on how to address the hazards. Review of OSHA standards, reaching out to safety persons that are in the same line of work, a possible review of manufacturer manuals can be considered if related to equipment, and researching any other industry standards can greatly assist in coming up with a plan to address hazards. In addressing the hazards, one should first try to eliminate the hazard by either substitution of a product that is less harmful or to eliminate the task all together. If elimination cannot be done, then one should consider implementing engineering controls. This type of control reduces or eliminates the exposures to chemical or physical hazards through use of engineered machinery or equipment. If this still does not address the hazard fully, then implementing administrative controls that address and limit hours exposed to the chemical or physical hazards through increasing personnel rotation (limiting hours) and addressing work practices and techniques. The final and last line of defense is to provide personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is the least effective method of addressing a hazard and should be implemented if the other more effective means fail to fully protect the worker.
Once the JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) is complete and the hazards have been addressed on paper, documenting the methods to addressing hazards can be done by creating a written policy that can be used to implement a training program. Educating your workers on the hazards of their job and providing guidance on how to protect themselves is critical. The training can ensure that the workers understand the hazards and methods that have been put in place to provide protection. If PPE is part of the protection, the worker must be trained on how to properly don and doff the equipment, maintain it, store it properly, and know when to exchange it. It is also important to understand that whatever is put into place for addressing hazards, the worker is to follow the guidelines employed. This requires the employer to monitor the process, address any shortcomings quickly, modify any written procedures and retrain the worker on the new the methods of protection.
Assessing the workplace for hazards may seem impossible, and you may not know where or how to start, but the most difficult step is just the first one. Once you start to prioritize, the rest falls in place. If you still have questions or just need encouragement to start, the safety team at ABC Keystone is here to help! Contact Kevin Keith today for any additional guidance or assistance that you may need.