Most facilities harbor many more hazards than people think. Unfortunately, some of those hazards are overlooked, often with disastrous consequences.
Let's focus on four common safety issues. Dealing with these should help improve safety performance in your workplace.
1. Lack of Housekeeping
This is standard. When it comes to walking and working surfaces, it goes hand in hand with most safety incidents when you really drill down to the root causes.
Were there any holes left uncovered and not repaired? Did someone spill oil on the floor for someone to slip on? Are there extension cords running everywhere?
This isn't just tidying up to make the place look nice. This is making sure that the general work environment doesn't turn into a hazard.
2. Electrical Hazards
Electrical hazards are everywhere. In an industrial setting, people are often well aware of them and they'll use procedures like lockout-tagout when working on machines.
But in an office setting, it's a whole other story. While they're less likely to be aware of electrical risks, office workers can still put themselves in harm's way by doing things like overloading electrical outlets and daisy chaining power strips. These seem like convenient quick fixes – until they cause the wiring to overheat and lead to a fire (learn more in Office Safety: Knowing Fire Safety Can Save Your Life).
3. Personal Protective Equipment
PPE is a wide category. Companies must take the time to make sure that their required PPE is fully vetted and that employees are trained in its proper use.
Unfortunately, PPE is sometimes treated like the easy answer to all safety problems. Workers who have to use chemicals or work in a dusty area, for instance, will often be given respirators to deal with the hazard. But has there been a proper assessment to determine the right piece of equipment based on the actual level of the chemical or contaminant? And what about engineering controls?
PPE should never be your first line of defense. Instead, always follow OSHA's hierarchy of controls for dealing with hazards.
4. And the Biggest Mistake of All: Not Conducting a Safety Risk Assessment
We're often so used to our work environment that we take safety for granted. We assume that we know everything there is to know about the hazards, risks, and how to best control them.
That's a mistake.
Before getting started, ask people to share their worries in a non-threatening forum. Switch jobs to gain a new perspective. Consider having management perform tasks normally handled by workers on the factory floor – it can be humbling and eye-opening. Better yet, consider getting an outsider's objective view of the workplace – before it's too late.
Discuss what immediate and long-term changes can be made to improve safety. Estimate the cost of making those changes. And remember, there's more than a monetary cost to losing people. Then, start scheduling changes based on priorities everyone has agreed on. Don't forget that a huge component in this is communication. Make sure that changes are rolled out with positive communication at all levels of the organization.
Making sure a workplace is a safe environment is a complex job. If we're not careful, focusing on some of the details can distract us from some important steps. Avoid these four mistakes and you'll be well on your way to doing the job right.