Maintaining Safety in the Workplace
It is the owner-manager’s responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe for employees or subcontractors.
Not only does safety protect the worker from injury or death, but a consistent record of safety also lowers payment to WorkSafeBC and lessens the cost to employers by ensuring that injuries to workers are minimized to guarantee that quality workers are not prevented from performing an essential company task.
Management should take it upon themselves to conduct personalized workplace walk-arounds to identify areas that may potentially pose a safety hazard and determine whether safety procedures that have been put in place or mandated by safety boards are working as they should.
Going through a jobsite or the manufacturing factory also allows management to assess if project or floor managers, as well as employees, are following safety practices that have been mandated. After all, corporate safety manuals may mandate wearing safety glasses or a safety harness, but employees may disregard the mandate for sake of comfort or expediency.
A proper safety inspection should be planned. However, notifying department heads that a safety inspection is imminent provides a forewarning that may set up a utopian result that a surprise walk-around could not mimic. Regardless of whether the walk-around is a surprise or a joint effort with department heads, owner-managers may wish to consider the following:
- As a precursor, management should take courses that help them identify safety issues on the job. Many courses are offered both by provincial/federal and private sectors, but should cover the outline provided by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:
- Introduction to Health and Safety Training for Managers
- Safety Principles and Risk Management
- Hazard Recognition and Control
- Emergency Preparedness and Fire Prevention
- Occupational Hygiene
- Workplace Inspection and Accident Investigation
- Program Development and Implementation
- Management should familiarize themselves with the project or department to understand what equipment is used, the stage of development, the number of workers onsite, who has oversight for the project or department.
- Review previous safety inspections and reports that were provided in-house or by outside agencies.
- Review WorkSafeBC injury claims for the last few years.
- Review WorkSafeBC billings for the last few years. Not only will this provide insight into the type of injury
and where in the process the injury occurred; it also indicates the cost associated with accidents and by default motivates a business to continue safety efforts to reduce cost.
- If specific areas are constantly targeted or found deficient, review these areas to see if appropriate changes have been made.
- Determine the areas that are to be inspected and the safety equipment that is needed. Ensure that you are knowledgeable about the necessary safety equipment and how to wear it. Your credibility is on the line … you won’t be taken seriously if you are not projecting the need for personal safety.
- Engage workers that have been injured on the job. Find out why they were injured and what steps have been taken, both by the company and individually, to improve workplace safety.
- Ask if there are additional safety issues that the employee feels would enhance safety within their working environment. Make it plain to the employee that this is not a witch hunt to lay blame, but rather that, as a concerned employer, you are always interested in ensuring the welfare of employees within the workplace environment.
- Observe workers in action. Are they lifting above suggested guidelines? Is the job repetitive and monotonous?
- As in all reviews it is imperative that notes be taken as you progress through the review to capitalize on the issues while they are fresh. Notes should identify the issues, observations and potential solutions for later review.
- There are areas of safety concern that even a novice should be able to identify. If you have taken a safety inspection course it should be easy to spot tripping hazards, blocked or locked exits, frayed or exposed wires, slippery floors, missing machine guards, shoddy housekeeping, or equipment that is long in the tooth and may not meet standards. Further, if walls are damaged or doors dented, it implies that drivers are not as diligent as they should be. Such lack of diligence may endanger not only the operator of the equipment but the workers as well.
- If employees are not using company-mandated safety equipment, ask for an explanation. Explain to them that not only are they jeopardizing their own safety, they also risk putting fellow employees and the company at risk should the company be shut down or face fines that will complicate future cash flow. It would seem appropriate at that moment to insist that the worker wear the clothing or remove them from the floor to establish your commitment to safety.
- Observe workers as they perform their job. For example, do they lift heavy objects? Do they stand/sit in positions that are not compatible with the machinery they are operating? Are they performing repetitive motions?
- When necessary take pictures to document issues for future reference.
Post Inspection Follow Up
Post-inspection follow-up is important to establishing your credibility as an employer committed to improving any identified safety issues.
Once the review is completed the impetus for change must be continued. Identified weaknesses should be categorized and accompanied with a plan establishing corrective action to be taken, timeline for the changes, and potential cost for implementing the safety procedures.
If it is not possible to make wholesale changes – as complex issues require further investigation or engineering studies to achieve completion – management will have to determine what intermediary safety changes must be made to minimize potential injury. Not only will this step maintain worker safety, but it will also provide evidence that the company was aware of the issue and was taking positive steps to correct the safety concern initially identified.
Feedback to employees showing what was determined as a result of your safety walk-around, and what process is being put in place to address concerns that may have arisen, provides confidence to employees that your company is committed to ensuring they can go home injury-free after their shift.
Owner-managers recognize their legal and moral responsibilities to provide a safe work environment for all employees. As such management involvement in identifying and correcting issues that may compromise the integrity of the workplace and negatively impact both the financial and public perception of their organization is of paramount importance.