Disrupting Disaster: Keys to Workplace Safety

Breanna Moll, Noria Corporation

Disrupting Disaster: Keys to Workplace Safety

Facilities continually aim for excellence. From manufacturing to maintenance, processes are streamlined, and employees are trained to be experts in their field to meet and exceed industry standards. But, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one area of facility life falling short is worker safety.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the number of non-fatal and fatal accidents occurring each year in the United States:

The leading preventable causes of workplace injuries were:

  • Falls, slips and trips
  • Contact with objects or equipment
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments

While these staggering numbers highlight the lurking dangers employees face daily, they also reveal the associated costs tied to workplace injuries. OSHA found that a single laceration injury can cost a company up to $42,000, both in direct costs (medical bills) and indirect costs (loss of production). With lacerations coming in as the number one reported workplace injury, these costs compound quickly.

Creating a safe working environment is the responsibility of not only upper management but each employee. When employees are safely performing their daily routines, the benefits become undeniable. From a reduction in the number of worker injuries to an increase in team morale and productivity, creating a safe facility has a ripple effect on the entire company. By understanding the risks and how to successfully mitigate them, we guarantee the continued safety of our valuable members and become part of the positive cultural shift occurring across the country.

Understanding Your Risk

It’s important to determine the root cause of your company’s safety issues. This will provide a direction forward and help your company make the necessary changes to enhance its safety practices. These changes can involve:

  • Improved or increased training
  • A culture shift
  • Improved processes
  • Alterations to the working environment

To determine the root cause of your safety issues, start by conducting a job hazard analysis (JHA). A JHA is a document that lists the steps necessary for completing a task. From this, you can determine where in the process safety risks are occurring and if these risks are due to employee gaps in safety knowledge or a specific part of the process itself.

During the JHA process, it can be helpful to seek input from employees who regularly perform the maintenance tasks. Getting their feedback not only helps create a more complete hazard report but it makes your employees feel valued and heard, creating a stronger safety culture in the process.

If it’s determined that a gap in safety knowledge exists, immediately begin preparing the appropriate training sessions and courses to correct these gaps. This can be done by either creating an entirely new training session for all employees or adding a safety section to an existing training session. Either way, the training should become a regular part of the training schedule to ensure the information is absorbed and consistently refreshed.

During training, be very clear about the key objectives, such as:

  • Zero workplace incident goals
  • Everyone is responsible for meeting safety goals
  • Everyone has a duty to help enhance facility safety

Don’t forget to segment a portion of your training schedule, if possible, to allow employees to demonstrate their understanding of the material on the actual equipment. This will give you the confidence that they have digested the information and can now perform the procedure safely.

If safety issues arise from the environment or specific processes, before safety training can begin, these issues need to be corrected.

Correcting Safety Issues

When a safety issue is found, immediate action must be taken. This ensures that the safety and well-being of all employees are protected without affecting the productivity or operability of valuable assets.  

Simple yet effective changes that you can implement at your facility include personal protective equipment, machine guarding, fall protection, lockout/tagout procedures and chemical handling procedures.

Personal Protection Equipment

Personal protection equipment (PPE) is specialized clothing and safety accessories that minimize or prevent injury to an employee by protecting against contact with harmful hazards, such as heat, physical objects and chemicals. PPE is the first line of defense when it comes to protecting employees from serious bodily injury.

According to OSHA, it is the responsibility of the company to provide appropriate PPE gear for all necessary job functions and personnel. The equipment should not only be in good condition, but it should also fit properly and protect the employees from identified potential hazards for a specific area.

PPE includes a wide variety of equipment, such as:

  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Specialized footgear
  • Hard hats
  • Breathing masks for chemicals or contaminated air

While PPEs aren’t the answer to all a facility’s safety concerns, they do eliminate much of the human error element that naturally occurs. If an employee loses focus for even a second, it can spell disaster, but with the help of PPE gear, these accidents can be less severe than if otherwise unprotected.

While this may seem like a simple concept, 66% of safety professionals report that PPE compliance is still an issue within their organization. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves is to master the simple steps. Any protection is better than no protection, and PPE has the potential to keep a safety issue from turning into a severe injury.

Machine Guarding

Machine guards are physical barriers put into place to protect employees from machinery in operation, such as blades, shears, presses, mills and other safety hazards, such as pinch points. Machine guards are one of the most effective defense mechanisms for preventing deadly machine contact.

Machine guards are designed to:

  • Prevent bodily contact with machinery and moving parts
  • Secure objects from falling onto employees
  • Secure tools or equipment from being dropped into moving machinery
  • Allow for safe lubrication and maintenance practices
  • Not create any new hazards

Did You Know?

"Workers who operate and maintain machinery suffer approximately 18,000 amputations, lacerations, crushing injuries, abrasions, and over 800 deaths per year."
Source: OSHA

Examples of physical machine-guarding devices include:

  • Two-hand tripping devices — Devices located away from equipment that requires the continued pressure of both hands to restart the machine.
  • Barrier guards — Physical barriers that prevent contact with machine parts.
  • Restraint straps — Physical restraints that keep employees within a safe working position and prevent slips and falls.

While these machine-guarding measures are necessary, they do take time to execute properly. In the interim, a facility should implement awareness devices and update training to reflect the new safety measures.

Awareness devices are warning signals or signs that notify an employee when they are entering a hazardous section of the facility and remind them of the proper safety precautions necessary for working in these areas. This can include any printed materials, such as flyers or posters, that provide an easily understood visual cue of when an employee is entering a hazardous area.

Fall Protection

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, falling on the job accounts for nearly 15% of all accidental workplace deaths and accounts for nearly 95 million lost workdays per year. With numbers like these, it highlights how a simple misstep can lead to lasting consequences for both the employee and the facility.

There are many ways falls can occur, such as:

  • Wet or greasy floors
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • No handrails
  • Cluttered walkways
  • Electrical cords or cables
  • Damaged ladder steps

Despite these ever-present threats, there are simple steps we can take to protect employees from falling on the job.

  1. Good Housekeeping: Safety and having a clean environment are directly related. The worse a facility’s housekeeping and cleaning habits, the higher its incident numbers will be. Having proper housekeeping is all about developing quality routines that every member is responsible for participating in. This includes keeping all walkways clean and clutter-free, putting equipment back in its proper place and quickly cleaning up spills or messes. Expectations for cleanliness should be set by management and reiterated at each training session to help set the defined standard as an ongoing practice.
  2. Wear Proper PPE: The shoes we wear can have a significant impact on the type of traction we experience on the facility floor. By having industrial-grade shoes designed to protect against slips and falls, we can immediately lower the rate of accidents occurring in our facilities.
  3. Adjusting Individual Behavior: It’s critical to communicate the importance of basic safety to all employees so they understand that even a moment of inattention or carelessness can have lasting consequences.

For larger fall risks, such as elevated surfaces, more rigorous safety precautions are necessary. According to OSHA, fall protection equipment is required when a team member is elevated four feet above the ground level for general industry workplaces or six feet for construction industries.

Fall protection equipment can include items such as:

  • Body harnesses
  • Body belts
  • Self-retracting lifelines
  • Confined space entry and retrieval tools
  • Guard rails
  • Toe boards

Lockout/Tagout

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) is a specific set of procedures designed to keep employees safe during the startup of machinery and equipment and the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.

While lockout and tagout devices are often used in tandem, there is a significant difference between the two. Lockout devices prevent machines from becoming energized and require a key to be removed. Tagout devices are tags attached to the machinery warning employees not to operate or power on the device. Although these are less secure, when used in combination with a lockout mechanism, they are extremely effective at grabbing the attention of employees and conveying that extra caution is necessary. 

OSHA estimates that nearly 50,000 workplace injuries are prevented each year through proper LOTO practices. Injuries most likely to occur without the protection of LOTO include:

  • Lacerations
  • Amputations
  • Electrocutions
  • Burns
  • Fractures

When a piece of equipment requires maintenance, proper LOTO procedures should be performed every time. This includes:

  • Notifying all employees who will be affected or in the area
  • Disconnecting the equipment from its energy source
  • Double-checking to ensure the energy source has been effectively cut off
  • Dissipating any stored energy
  • Locking or tagging the piece of equipment to prevent the release of hazardous energy

Chemical Handling

Facilities are responsible for storing and handling a broad range of chemicals, and it’s important that all employees understand the safety risks that they pose and how to handle them properly.

Chemicals present a broad range of physical hazards, such as:

  • Fire
  • Explosions
  • Sudden release of pressure
  • Reactivity, especially when certain chemicals come into contact with other chemicals, air or water

All these hazards pose serious consequences, and side effects can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Headache
  • Skin rash
  • Skin burn
  • Organ damage
  • Cancer
  • Death

Because of these harmful hazards, it’s critical to take the necessary precautions to properly store and maintain chemicals at all times. Luckily, there are simple actions we can take to immediately reduce the risk of a negative reaction.

  • Keep aisles and pathways clean and clear of any obstructions.
  • Store containers carefully on tiers but not high enough to pose an additional safety risk.
  • Keep hazardous substances separate that could trigger each other.
  • Deter material accumulation to prevent fires and chemical reactions.
  • Install proper ventilation and draining systems.
  • Install emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers, spill clean-up materials and PPE.
  • Practice spill response drills.

While facilities can’t avoid having potentially harmful chemicals on site, they can do everything within their power to mitigate the risks and help create the safest working environment possible. By spreading this awareness to every member of the team, severe accidents and injuries can be avoided.

Quick Wins for Safety

While reevaluating and adjusting workplace safety protocols can seem like a challenge, there are several small steps we can begin implementing immediately to smooth the transition and create safer working conditions for all employees.

Post Signs and Posters

Posters and signs provide a quick and easy reminder to employees on how to properly perform a procedure. These posters should be located in frequented areas and areas that pose a potential safety risk so employees can revisit them as needed. It can also be helpful to occasionally rotate posters to prevent them from becoming overlooked or glanced over.

Checklists

Checklists are powerful and inexpensive tools that can have a big impact on safety. By creating easy-to-use and well-distributed safety checklists, employees have access to a more detailed reminder of the proper safety steps and procedures. Unlike a poster, this checklist can also travel with the employees throughout the facility, guaranteeing they are never far from the knowledge they need. By creating the habit of revisiting checklists, facilities can help create a well-rounded culture of safety.

Add Safety to Existing Training

Nearly every plant has some form of regular training scheduled at their facility. If time is tight, instead of hosting a separate safety meeting, add the material to an existing routine training session. This helps solidify that safety is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done session performed solely to appease upper management. By making training part of the routine, employees develop the expectation that safety is a top priority and constant commitment.

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About the Author

Breanna Moll is a content writer and editor for Noria Corporation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern State University and has nearly ten years of experience in mar...