WHY INVEST IN SAFETY TRAINING?
Each year in the United States, there are around 5,000 fatal occupational injuries. In fact, an employee dies from a work-related incident every 99 minutes. (BLS)
Experience shows, however, that many of these fatalities could have been prevented had the employer and employees implemented a few safeguards.
Before we get into all that though, we should ask: what is safety? By definition, safety refers to protection from danger, risk, or injury. In today’s workplaces, it is common to see signs and other guards that promote safety. It wasn’t always that way, though.
A breif history
It wasn’t until 1970 that major change happened. By signing into effect the OSH Act of 1970, President Richard Nixon authorized the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a branch of the U.S. Department of labor. Since then, American workplaces have become much safer.
- Worker deaths in America decreased from about 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to 15 a day in 2019
- Recently, employee injuries and illnesses decreased from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.8 per 100 in 2019 (OSHA)
For many decades, workplace injuries and fatalities were frighteningly common in the U.S. In fact, until the creation of labor unions, the fight for employees’ rights was unpopular. In many cases, it was cheaper for companies to replace a dead or injured employee than it was to implement safety measures in the workplace.
OSHA’s policies & guidelines
OSHA’s primary responsibility is to improve the health and safety of employees across the country. The OSH Act of 1970 safeguards the rights of employees in workplaces across the country. Specifically, the General Duty Clause includes provisions for employees’ rights to a safe and healthful workplace:
- (a) Each employer —
- shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
- shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
With this in mind, it’s important to note that both employers and employees have certain rights and responsibilities regarding safety and health in the workplace. As noted above, an employer’s primary duty is to provide employees with a safe and healthful workplace. They do so by complying with OSHA regulations.
On the flip side, employees are responsible for complying with all OSHA regulations and additional safety standards enforced in their workplace. For this reason, safety is everyone’s responsibility.
OSHA enforces safety regulations by conducting investigations and issuing fines to companies that are non-compliant. However, safety regulations should never be something employers and employees choose to reactively implement after an accident has occurred on the job. Instead, employers and employees should be proactive about creating safe operating procedures that prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.
As part of the effort to improve overall job safety and health, OSHA encourages companies to create safety and health programs. These programs help employers prioritize protecting the health and safety of their employees.
Of course, the safety and health program will only be effective if employees choose to implement it in their day-to-day work. The program should help create an atmosphere of open communication between all employees, including those in management.
As part of the ongoing safety and health program improvement process, managers may ask themselves:
- What seems to be going well?
- What could be improved?
Safety and Health
As such, creating a safety and health program should be a cooperative effort between employers and employees. OSHA outlines seven core elements to creating an effective safety and health program:
- Management Leadership
- Worker Participation
- Hazard Identification and Assessment
- Hazard Prevention and Control
- Education and Training
- Program Evaluation and Improvement
- Communication and Coordination for Host Employers, Contractors, and Staffing Agencies
The terms Management Leadership and Worker Participation both deal with the responsibility of employers and employees to write and enforce the safety and health program. Note that employees can and should help in developing the program. This will create a sense of ownership that makes employees more willing to follow the program.
Beyond that, it’s important for management to conduct risk assessments to identify the hazards in the workplace and evaluate which hazards pose the biggest danger to employee health and safety. Once these hazards have been identified, managers and employees can make a plan to prevent or control them.
Another crucial part of the program is creating requirements for education and training. One of the best ways to safeguard employee health and safety is by educating them on the hazards in their workplace and training them to operate safely around these hazards. In some cases (such as with forklift operation) OSHA is strict about how frequently this training must occur. In other cases, it leaves this determination up to the employer.
Finally, some workplaces involve multiple employers, contractors, or staffing agencies. In these cases, a host employer should take responsibility and establish safety and health procedures for all other involved parties. This will ensure that all employees (regardless of their employer) are being held to the same standard while they’re working together in the same workplace.
As previously mentioned, safety training is a crucial safety measure in the workplace. It isn’t a checklist, though. It’s a culture. Much more than providing employees the bare minimum training so the company doesn’t have to pay hefty fines if an accident occurs, training should take place frequently and repeatedly.
Safety training is all about people. It’s about sustaining and protecting the lives of those people — family, friends, co-workers, and so on.
There are too many accidents each year. A lot of these accidents are the same types over and over again. These tragedies cost friends, family, and co-workers the lives of people they care about.
Yet, most accidents are completely preventable. It comes down to the commitment of both management and employees to maintain safety at work, which is every worker’s right. Refresher training can remind seasoned employees of any crucial safety measures they may have forgotten about. For certain work tasks, employees must receive refresher training every three years. At the very least, however, it should take place anytime:
- There are changes to an employee’s assigned duties
- There are changes regarding potential exposure to hazards for which the employees have not received training
- An employee is observed working unsafely
- An accident, injury, or near-miss occurs during operations
Identifying workplace hazards
Identifying workplace hazards is an important part of an on-going commitment to safety culture. Safety training usually targets at least one of the following five types of hazards:
- Air Contaminants. These include particulates, gases, and vapors that can impact both outdoor and indoor workplaces.
- Chemical Hazards. These include solids, liquids, and gases that are toxic when they’re inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested.
- Physical Hazards. These include noise, vibration, illumination, temperature, and more.
- Biological Hazards. These include infectious diseases, molds, toxic or poisonous plants, and animal materials that can cause allergic reactions.
- Ergonomic Hazards. These include vibration, noise, eye strain, repetitive motion, and heavy lifting.
These five categories help management categorize hazards and assess their associated risks. Beyond these five major hazard groupings, there are other less obvious hazards categories, such as mental health, distractions, and physical health.
Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.)
In prioritizing workplace safety, managers should also enforce the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The type of PPE employees will need varies from one industry to the next. For example, construction workers will, at the very least, need:
- Hard hats
- Reflective vests
- Work gloves
- Safety-toed boots
- Protective eyewear
- Hearing protection
While medical personnel will usually need:
- Protective clothing
- Non-slip shoes
- Surgical masks
- Hair covering
PPE is designed to keep employees safe, so it should never be neglected. Some employees may consider it restrictive or uncomfortable, but its benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. It’s also important that employees handle their PPE with care and inspect it carefully before each use. If they note any deficiency in their PPE, they should replace it or find a safer alternative. Damaged PPE won’t be able to adequately protect employees from the hazards of the job.
After each shift, employees should perform any needed maintenance on their PPE to keep it in peak condition. For example, employees using respirators may need to change out the filters regularly.
Workplace Safety is Important
Be OSHA Complaint
At the end of the day, everyone wants to go home from work without an injury or illness. The only way to do that is to create a workplace that keeps employees and managers safe and sound. At Safety Provisions, we can provide for all of your safety training needs. We offer courses that span various industries – from construction to agriculture – in multiple convenient training formats to help you maintain the utmost safety and security at your workplace.