What they didn’t know hurt them: Crucial safety info wasn’t shared

by on July 12, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

In any organization, information can end up in silos – the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. That’s why it’s crucial, as safety director, not to end up in one yourself.

Here are some real-life lack-of-communication examples that an Ontario, Canada, professor found when he reviewed a Canadian auto manufacturer:

1. Info stays inside the box …
Manufacturing engineers didn’t get the budget to automate small-part attachment on an assembly line. So they assigned workers to the task instead.

What they didn’t think about: Attaching small parts required significant amounts of repetitive bending. They didn’t account for industrial ergonomics.

Action step: As safety director, make sure injury-cost info doesn’t remain in a silo: When installation projects are announced, get involved. Share typical injury and illness rates/costs – info the C-suite needs.

… or didn’t even get in the box
A contractor installed a natural gas system. Unfortunately, a natural gas sensor was placed out of the way, and not in an area where gas accumulations would likely occur. An explosion could occur without warning.

Action step: Review high-hazard installations. Engineers clearly missed the hazard when reviewing the plans (which is normal). A post-installation walkaround could have uncovered the hazard.

2. Kept a lid on the problem …
In the plant’s metal shop, a safety expert observed eye-gear hanging around worker’s necks. When the plant manager was confronted, he said enforcing the rules seems to be make workers unhappy and less productive.

Action step: This requires a cultural change, and that takes a lot of education, time and follow up.

Many safety pros find a good start is to get worker buy-in and involve workers in the solution. Describe the existing injuries and the risks. Ask them the dilemma about productivity and safety. Finally, let them pick out their own PPE. Workers are more likely to buy in when they are part of a solution.

… and didn’t enlist available help
Workers near spray paint booths were suffering minor respiratory irritation and illnesses. The booths had an independent ventilation system that was supposed to be air-tight.

But no air-quality testing was done around the booths and the testing schedule of the ventilation system itself had lapsed. Again, plant safety only became aware only when injuries cropped up.

Action step: The question isn’t “what” is to be done, but why it wasn’t done. No one wants to publicize, even internally, problems with maintenance schedules.

Initial IAQ monitoring is not expensive – if maintenance schedules lapse because of higher priorities, supervisors and workers can pick up the slack with a low-cost device. Assign a worker to run a pre-shift air-quality test. That can give you a heads-up when more testing is needed, and when the ventilation system has become a high-priority work order (and before workers start getting sick).

Source: Mark Rosen, University of Toronto Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Ontario, CA; White paper prepared for Minerva Canada safety manager education firm.

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