You can't buy a safety program

May 10, 2000
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For someone who makes a living by developing safety programs, this article’s headline might appear to be professional suicide.

However, concerned owners and employers will read on and understand that the point of this article is to provide guidance for and explain the amount of effort that is required to implement an effective safety program.

Some aids have been developed to make it easier, such as safety resources developed by trade associations and consultants, but what the headline says is still true: A safety program involves more than a purchase.

Too often, a contractor purchases a generic safety program, types the company name in the blanks, and places the program on the shelf in the event that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector visits. A binder covered in dust is neither effective nor compliant.

Naturally, the question arises: “What constitutes a safety program?” This is where effort becomes involved. Each employer must determine the actions that will create a safety culture and address the specific hazards unique to the company.

A study revealed four characteristics that are common to companies with very few or no accidents, and of companies that were able to avoid OSHA citations. There characteristics are: management commitment and employee involvement; an ongoing worksite analysis; the presence of hazard controls; and comprehensive training programs.

Management commitment, involvement

Employees reflect the attitude of management toward job safety and health. Attitude cannot be bought. Interest in preventing employee injury and illness must be demonstrated at all levels.

This should be expressed in a company policy statement and supported by management’s actions. For example, safety should be clearly identified in job estimates and company budgets. Management should observe all safety rules at all times.

Employee involvement can be accomplished by forming a joint employee-management advisory group. In addition, employees’ special knowledge can be viewed as a resource. They should perform inspections, put on safety training and/or help to investigate accidents.

But most of all, employees need a way to communicate with management about hazards or problems they observe.

Worksite analysis

“Analysis” is a fancy word for taking a close look at the worksite or jobsite and identifying problems. A review of company injury and illness data can offer insight into common hazards.

Accident investigations pinpoint problems. Jobsite inspections provide the vehicle to identify and correct hazards as they occur.

Resources developed by trade associations and consultants can make these tasks easier. For example, the American Subcontractors Association’s (ASA’s) Compliance-Plus software program offers recordkeeping capabilities and checklists. If the effort is made to collect and input the data, the software can generate reports, making analysis easier. Checklists help ensure that items are not overlooked during inspections.

Hazard prevention and control

Once hazards and potential hazards are identified, systems can be put in place to prevent or control them. There are three types of controls: engineering, administrative, and personal protection. Where possible, engineering controls must be used.

For example, it is better to eliminate noise than to reduce the time exposed to it or to wear hearing protection. If it is not possible to eliminate the hazard, administrative controls such as policies or procedures that reduce time exposed can be used. The final protection is to equip the employee with gear, such as hearing protections.

The effectiveness of controls depends on accountability. Individuals must be responsible for putting controls in place and ensuring their proper use.

Training employees, supervisors, managers

Of the four characteristics identified in the study, training is cited as the most important. All managers and employees need safety training, and must understand their role in the success of the program.

Employees who must contend with hazards need to be trained on the policies and procedures that they must follow to avoid injury. Employee orientation should receive special attention.

Generic program materials may be used, but they need to be customized for special conditions on the jobsite. Materials that can be edited on computer, such as activities, tests and safety talks, will make it easier to properly prepare employees.

Safety is not a commodity to be bought and sold. No price tag can be associated with the safety and health of an employee. What safety requires is an effort to show management commitment, involve employees, analyze the workplace, implement hazard controls, and conduct training.

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