Articles | Scrap Risk Insurance

The Invaluable Concepts Behind a Strong Safety Program

Ross Fields, CLCS | Contact Ross 

Strong Safety Program

Whether at a facility or driving in transit, a strong safety program is invaluable in the waste industry.

As many have probably heard, OSHA has been authorized to increase its civil penalties for all employer violations of OSHA regulations. With the increases to be in effect by August of this year, they are set to be substantial. The legislation that set criteria for the costly increase considered this a “catch-up adjustment.” Seeing as how this is the first time penalties have been increased since 1990, one can imagine there is a lot of catching-up to be done. Some estimates peg increases as high as 80 percent. For example, the maximum costs for “other than serious” and “serious” citations will increase from $7,000 to an estimated $12,600. “Willful” and “repeat” citations are currently capped at a $70,000 maximum, but could nearly double to an estimated $126,000. Clearly, now more than ever, the financial cost of failing to enforce safety standards in the workplace aims to drive employers to ensure a safe work environment for their employees. The stake that has always been high and should be considered priceless, however, is the importance of employees returning home in the same condition in which they reported to work. Whether at a facility or driving in transit, a strong safety program is invaluable in the waste industry. This article will examine the general concepts behind a solid, enforceable safety program that an entire workforce can support and also provide some tips for job safety onsite and on the road.

Safety As a Culture

Having a proactive safety program is of great importance. Knowing all of the protocols in the world for working safely is useless if they are not followed and easily enforced. Too often a safety program is a ‘thing’ collecting dust on a shelf in a back office somewhere. A safety program should be a culture. Having all parties from management to new hires involved in the program is often a terrific help to the culture of safety in the workplace. On the other hand, this does not mean developing a police state, where workers are reluctant to report safety concerns nor feel as though they are being bullied into compliance. Workers should care about a safety program because their employer cares about them—as a person, not a medical expense. Management should strive to convey a respectful attitude to the employee’s participation in a safety program. Employees are often the ideal source for ideas in improvements to a safety program, and their input should be welcomed and easily provided. When employees feel a genuine concern for their health and safety, they perform better and perform the safe way. Employees should never feel as though they are required to be safe to save the company money or headaches. Employers have a lot of resources available to them in terms of developing safety programs and also keeping those programs active and adaptive.

Safety Onsite

When it comes to operational safety onsite, personal protective equipment (PPE), industrial equipment and hazardous energy are three of the major areas a safety program should address. Again, the most important part of a safety program is enforcing it. Daily checklists for both PPE and the operation of equipment should be developed and completed every day by the employees. If the checklist cannot be met, whether by the integrity of PPE or by the ability to safely operate equipment, it should be documented and reported right away and corrected as soon as possible.

PPE

PPE is one of the basic tools in safety, but lack of enforcement can take away all the effectiveness of these simple protections. Yes, safety glasses become bothersome, masks become hot, and goggles and face shields can slow down processes. PPE must become just another part of the job, not an option. Supervisors and managers cannot afford to look the other way or choose to let the enforcement of PEE become lax. It’s also important to note what should not be worn when working. Long sleeves, loose clothing, lanyards, etc. can be very dangerous in certain situations and should be addressed accordingly.

Industrial Equipment

Operating industrial equipment is a major responsibility in any setting. It goes without saying that those in control of equipment, from forklifts to wheel loaders and excavators, should always be properly trained. However, it is important to remember that a big step in safety surrounding equipment is reducing human error. Ensure that the operator’s area (like cabs and seats) are free of debris so levers and pedals can be used with accuracy. Clearly mark pathways and areas of operation for equipment, foot traffic and other interactions. Of course, always check to make sure that everything the operators need to safely use the equipment is in good working condition. No rigged handles, locks, seat covers or other temporary fixes should be allowed in operation.

Hazardous Energy

Hazardous energy can come from a number of different sources in machines and equipment and not properly controlling it can seriously injure or kill workers. Most employers should be familiar with OSHA’s Lockout/ Tagout (LOTO) standard and it should be an integral part of a safety program. Even if third parties perform equipment servicing, it is a good idea to implement a LOTO program for when equipment goes down. This way, employees unfamiliar with the condition of an impaired piece of equipment do not try to operate it and risk being injured. All employees who work in areas where LOTO programs are used need to be instructed as to why the controls are in place and understand the importance of not restarting/re-energizing the equipment/machinery. Every employee needs to know what the locks and tags mean, what the procedures are and who has the authority to oversee these procedures. Even if they do not normally work on or in the equipment, they should be able to identify when something is locked out or tagged out and know not to interact with that equipment. Awareness is a major factor in an effective LOTO program. Locks should be used whenever possible and tags can only be used when they will be as effective as locks.

On-the-Road Safety

Over the road safety may be quite different, but it is just as important. Most fleets travel nearly double the miles of an average U.S. driver, greatly increasing the exposure to risk on the road. In terms of both cost and number of fatalities, fleet accidents are the most severe worker injuries out there. Again, being proactive is a major step in avoiding accidents. Daily driver checklists should be developed so the driver and other safety officers can verify each day that the equipment is in good working order. These checklists should cover operation, safety features and housekeeping at a minimum. They should be conducted daily, documented and logged. Concerns should be reported immediately and fixed as soon as possible. In addition to driver training and ensuring the road-worthiness of vehicles, procedures such as entering/exiting, operating special equipment and protocol for roadside/accident should be established. Something as simple as making sure that drivers enter and exit the vehicle with empty hands can prevent slip and fall injuries. Folders with step-by-step procedures should be carried in every vehicle with clear instructions on what to do in case of an accident or roadside emergency. These folders should be the same color for the fleet or like vehicles and their contents should be part of training and daily checklists. For example, heavy trucks could have green folders, pick-up trucks could have yellow and private passenger cars could have blue. There should be two to three sheets of paper with important instructions, names and telephone numbers and insurance information for drivers in the event that they should need it. Folders should be coded to specific vehicles and should always be accounted for at the beginning of every shift.

Continuing Involvement

With all of this, it is important for an employer to be involved early and often. Involvement shows employees that their employer cares and it makes employees care too. Employers cannot be everywhere all of the time and neither can their managers; this is why it is important to have every worker involved. It can be helpful to assign specific roles in the safety program to individual employees or maybe departments. Regardless of the existence of a safety manager or officer, others can be helpful. Employees can nominate an individual to an advocate role. That individual then can be an intermediary between staff and ownership regarding safety concerns, workers comp claims and accolades for best practices. Perhaps an internal maintenance department can train other employees on LOTO and other areas where employees can help maintenance workers. A team effort will make it easier to accomplish the goals of the safety program as well as aid in developing the crucial safety culture that is needed to succeed.

In addition to the internal help, companies have help from external resources too. Insurance brokers and companies that work with employers should have numerous resources and be more than willing to help. The auto insurance companies should have resources for safety and training and also may be able to provide discounts for certain safety features like GPS and in-cab cameras. Those insurance companies that handle worker’s compensation have resources that they make available to their clients. They can help with document templates for the safety program, provide topics, materials and professionals for training. Good insurance brokers will have systems in place that they can replicate for multiple clients, especially if they are professionals in the particular field of waste and recycling. Insurance companies and brokerages should have software that they can make available to their clients so that safety and training is easily accessible, training and documentation is electronically tracked and the message of safety is clear and consistent throughout an organization. Getting insurance professionals involved in the safety program will not only lead to a lighter workload for all, but a safer workplace will also lessen the likelihood of fines and lower insurance costs as well.