NOTE: All April interviews were conducted prior to publication. The content does not necessarily reflect most recent developments of COVID-19.
With social distancing halting face-to-face interaction, it’s important to maintain communication. We held our safety roundtable virtually to keep bringing our clients insightful content. Read on to learn these experts’ thoughts on safety trends, what you can learn from your compliance programs, and ideas to keep your safety skills sharp.
Q - What do you think will be the most important safety issues this year? What are the biggest challenges facing EHS leaders today?
AL - In mining, it communication and awareness. Miners who are used to their routine, lose sight of awareness around them. Communication needs to be done clearly to all miners on their daily tasks at hand. If you play the telephone game, by the end of the game the last person hears the wrong thing. That’s how accidents happen. You must have a 2-way communication system such as CB radios, hand held radios or even cell phones.
JW - Hand injuries are a leading cause of lost workdays and hospital visits. These types of injuries are not only damaging to employees, but are costly for everyone involved. From missed work to medical costs and indemnity, the financial costs can be huge. We will be focusing on hand safety this year and staying on top of all internal/external regulations.
DW - In manufacturing, when it comes to safety losses there are typically the same top three loss categories: 1) hand injuries as James mentioned; 2) slip, trips and falls; and 3) ergo related MSD/soft tissue injuries and illnesses. The biggest challenge at a plant level for EHS Managers is easily time management and balancing priorities. There’s often the plant manager’s agenda, the EHS manager’s agenda, corporate EHS agenda, along with the day to day pop up fires to fight. Having clear direction is crucial.
Q - What have you learned from your hearing conservation and/or respiratory protection compliance programs?
JW - This is a great question, because you should learn from your program every year. Safety managers should take the time to do an analysis of their hearing, respiratory and other compliance programs. Even if it’s to find some small tweak to improve results. For us, we most recently have been gaining a better understanding of the various type of hearing protection and what works best for our factory.
DW - I’m constantly learning, not only from my programs but from my experience in the field and with different employers throughout my career. For example, originally I didn’t know fitting was a part of the hearing conservation standard until I changed employers. It’s amazing how many organizations don’t conduct these. Regarding respiratory protection, it’s important to know that appendix D must be provided to employees even voluntarily wearing a dust mask. This can be a posting but it’s better to get an employee acknowledgement signature for burden of proof.
AL - It is important to us that all our miners get a yearly hearing test done, and know how important it is to use the proper PPE to protect them from hearing loss. Our experience with Examinetics was wonderful. We have great technicians. We got our results right away and we were all surprised to see where we are at with our hearing. It’s important for a company to have a good partner for compliance testing who can help you walk through everything you need to know and avoid any issues.
Q - What advise do you have for a new safety pro just entering the EHS field?
DW - Work hard early on. Build your resume. Always be honest - your credibility is critical in creating the safety culture you desire. Say you don’t know but that you’ll check. Then check and follow up. Remember that your employees are people. When the OIR pressures are high and accusations are easier & faster, ask yourself why they did something to cause the injury. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t make statements you are unsure of.
JW - External education is a must. Stay in “student” mode and always keep learning. Also, get involved in the safety community and your local community through safety boards, trade organizations and environmental reviews.
AL - I agree with James on lots of training. Have as much fun as you can with it. Get hands-on practice as much as you can. Never stop learning - the more you learn the better off your employees will be by you sharing as much knowledge as you can with them.
Q - What tips or tricks do you have for increasing employee engagement with health & safety?
AL - We try to get all employees to participate in safety. During a safety meeting or annual refresher, we will play games that involve the topic that we are discussing. The winner gets a prize at the end. The employees then really want to be involved each time. I also ask them to volunteer to do demos with me in front of the class; they also get a prize for volunteering.
DW - We also offer prizes at our quarterly safety campaigns. It helps increase involvement. We offer activities that employees can select from so they can proactively contribute to the safety of the workplace. Make sure to throw in some fun options too.
Q - What are your favorite resources to stay on top of safety trends? How do you continue to grow as a safety pro?
AL - My favorite resource that I use is the MSHA website - its full of all kinds of materials and tool box talks. I also like vividlearning.com. Get as may training classes as you can. You can even get them online if you aren’t able to travel. You can never get too much training due to safety concerns always changing.
JW - I am part of a safety board back in Iowa, so I have calls every two weeks. I subscribe to different publications, apps and news info to stay informed of the latest developments in safety.
Q - What changes changes would you like to see OSHA implement?
DW - The ability for civilians that are EHS Professionals to issue citations to the government for their workers not abiding by the regulations. I find it infuriating that OSHA can site employers, yet numerous times I have seen government employees or their contract employees not abiding by the regulations. Also, the same timeline for responses should apply to OSHA as it does to employers. There should be a statute of limitations regarding OSHA’s ability to cite a workplace when it pertains to documents, reports, etc. sent to the government. If an employer receives a report with hazards noted in it, they are to respond promptly or assess and prioritize accordingly. However, a report can sit in government files for over a year before they even review it. The demands of employers versus the same time commitment of the government do not align to show that they are committed to the same level of excellence they demand.
JW - That’s a great point. Additionally, I feel permit requirements still leave people open to injury if there is not a watch out. I would like to see a review of some of the older standards to see if we could improve.