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7 Tips for Being a Great Safety Leader

Safety employee on laptop

Wednesday, Sep 2nd, 2020

On December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law. The following April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed.

Since then, OSHA has been charged with ensuring “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

The mission of OSHA could be considered the ideal standard of safety. After all, any safety professional knows how to respond to a workplace incident, but a great safety professional works to identify hazards and prevent problems before an incident can occur.

7 Keys to Being a Safety Leader Within Your Organization

In order for workplace safety to be truly effective, education and implementation need to start at the top. Employees are more likely to follow all the proper procedures if management and those in safety positions lead by example.

Here are six steps you can take to create a safe working environment — plus one step to take in the event an incident does occur.

1. Know your safety vulnerabilities

OSHA makes it clear that employers are required to “provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards” for all employees. Therefore, it is vital you understand what these potential hazards are in your workplace.

Depending on your industry and your specific jobsite, there could be any number of different hazards present, including electrical equipment, dangerous goods or heavy machinery.

Conducting a job hazard analysis (JHA) will help you understand the most hazardous jobs in your workplace, what those specific hazards entail, and corrective and preventive measures you can take to reduce or completely eliminate the likelihood of accidents, injuries and illnesses.

2. Maintain an orderly workplace

There is one location common among a large number of businesses that is one of the top sites of injuries each year: Warehouses. If any of your operations take place in a warehouse, it is important to make your entire workforce aware of common warehouse hazards, such as materials handling, stacking and storage.

It seems to go without saying, but ensuring your worksite is physically set up in a safe way could help eliminate many hazards. The layout of any workplace should have adequate walking areas clear of debris that could cause trips or falls. There should also be appropriate and easily accessible trash disposal and spill cleanup sites.

Additionally, nearly every workplace has chemicals present, ranging from cleaning products to full-scale chemical production. If chemicals are not properly stored and handled, they can cause injury, fire or even death. OSHA requires that workplaces keep safety data sheets (SDSs) for every hazardous chemical, which outlines the hazards of the chemical and what to do if a spill or accident occurs.

Implementing a safe worksite by design, from the beginning, will make it easier to identify and avoid potential safety hazards.

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3. Educate your employees

Along with creating a safe working environment, employers also have a responsibility to train all employees on potential hazards and what to do should an incident occur.

While this certainly includes workplace-specific training on applicable hazards, protective equipment and response procedures, there are general safety topics employees in any industry or working environment should be trained on.

For example, falls accounted for more than 15% of all workplace injuries in 2018 but this type of accident can often be easily avoided. Having your workforce complete a fall safety course can help employees identify fall hazards and ways they can minimize or eliminate those hazards.

4. Ensure workers use the proper safety equipment

Construction worker wearing safety harness

No matter what kind of hazard may be present on a jobsite, there is some form of personal protective equipment (PPE) that can help protect affected workers from physical, electrical hazards, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter.

In fact, under OSHA guidelines, with few exceptions, employers must provide PPE that will protect each affected employee from any identified or even potential hazard, at no cost to the employee.

Employers are also responsible for providing proper and complete training on any piece of PPE that may be used, which includes when to use PPE, how to properly put on and remove PPE, any limitations of the PPE items, and more.

5. Empower your employees

Even when employers do all they can to set up their workplaces for safety success, it is truly up to the employees to make sure safe habits are being carried out. After all, the employees are involved in the day-to-day operations; they are much more likely to be the first to see potential issues.

One way you can empower your employees is to implement a Stop Work Authority (SWA). Such a policy makes it possible for a competent, trained employee to identify a situation that is unsafe or where there is imminent danger and gives them the power and obligation to stop the work before an incident happens.

Having an approved SWA helps to encourage proactive thinking, rather than just reactive processes. A Stop Work Authority allows workers to manage their own safety in real time, without waiting for managerial approval if a dangerous situation does, or could, occur.

Employees should also be encouraged to conduct regular safety checks of their own areas to ensure standards are being met by every worker. By putting this power into the hands of the employees rather than only people in management, you will foster a culture of safety from the ground up.

6. Don’t forget the basics

Office employee with hurt neck

When you think about worker safety, you probably consider some things discussed here, such as personal protective equipment and thorough training. However, it is important to also consider ergonomics, which is a basic but often-overlooked area of opportunity that aims to increase productivity and reduce discomfort.

From an ergonomic perspective, effective workplace planning along with well-designed equipment can help minimize or eliminate potential risks and reduce worker injury. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers guidance on how to “create an ergonomically sound work environment.”

Having your employees complete ergonomic training can also help, as many times this training will cover things that you never stop to think about but that can be so important to health and safety.

7. Be prepared

Top view of fallen injured employee

No matter how thoroughly you address workplace hazards and how well you train your workforce, incidents are all too common. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that there were 5,250 workplace fatalities and 2.8 million workplace injuries, most of which likely could have been avoided.

When an incident occurs in your workplace, it is important that you and your employees know the proper steps to take, from stopping the work to administering first aid or contacting the appropriate healthcare professionals.

Launching an official investigation can help determine why an accident happened and what changes need to be made going forward. It is important for all employees to be trained on incident investigation in case an injury or fatality occurs in their area.

Online Training Makes Safety Easy

Throughout the United States, employers have begun the multiphase process of reopening following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many employees have not yet fully returned to work, such as those in personal care or bars and restaurants, industries such as manufacturing and construction must continue.

As your workers may still be adjusting to a new look to their workday, now is an ideal time to implement online training strategies. Online training can help your workforce get caught up on regulatory training requirements or maybe even learn new skills without requiring large numbers of employees to congregate in one area.

A major benefit of online training is that it can be completed by employees at any location. Whether you have an office employee taking the course on a desktop computer or an oil worker going through training on a tablet while on the rig, online courses make training fully accessible.

It’s never a wrong time to evaluate your current safety program, or implement a new one, to protect your employees. Contact SafetySkills today to see how we can help you get started training your employees!

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