For the February roundtable, we are pleased to feature three excellent health and safety professionals from various industries and backgrounds.  

Q - What do you think will be the most important safety issues this year? What are the biggest challenges facing EHS leaders today?

Justin - The mountain we continue to climb as we move further into 2021 is of course Covid-19. CDC requirements are always changing so, as safety professionals, we are constantly tweaking our protocols to ensure employee safety. These guidelines aren't getting any less stringent. The increase in requirements adds more tension to an already polarizing set of topics such as mask-wearing and social distancing. In plain terms, employees are getting tired of wearing masks and other requirements during this pandemic.

Once the pandemic is over and we can do away with these Covid requirements, I anticipate a level of carelessness that we need to be ready for. I can see employees becoming less focused on the task at hand and more focused on not having to wear a mask and social distance. I can see employees becoming distracted, especially in the beginning because they will be able to talk and move around more freely than they have been. This carelessness could potentially lead to a spike in injuries until employees get used to how things were before the pandemic. This may not be the biggest safety issue we will face this year, but I believe it will indeed be an issue.

William- I believe the biggest challenge in the coming year will be training. It has always been a challenge to conduct engaging training that will help employees understand and retain information. Covid-19 has made this even more difficult for larger employers, since it would be unsafe and irresponsible to gather groups of employees together to conduct training. Our facility is shifting the focus in safety towards behavior-based safety and employee participation. We are emphasizing a strong safety culture.

Q - What have you learned from your hearing conservation and/or respiratory protection compliance programs?

Sharon - We have both programs ongoing here and Examinetics services our Hearing Conservation Program. We recently had a noise evaluation done and found our decimal levels have dropped below the standard required for the program. That being said, even though we are no longer required to test for compliance, we made the decision to continue with yearly hearing testing based on advice from our safety consultant. For the first time in eight years, a couple of our employees showed slight changes in their hearing. This validates our decision to continue with the program in order to keep our team aware. 

William - I am also looking to re-evaluate our hearing conservation program since we have expanded our location since our last audiometric sampling. It is likely that we are over-testing now and many of our employees are no longer exposed to noise over 85 Db TWA. The results of our last round of examinations would seem to support this. However, similar to what Sharon said, we may continue with a more robust program to keep everyone aware and safe.

Justin - We are very fortunate in that we are a low noise facility, so most of our employees aren't required to wear hearing protection. The small group of employees that are required to wear hearing protection take this seriously. After audiometric testing was concluded recently and none of these employees had hearing loss or threshold changes, I was able to see that our hearing conservation program is implemented and working properly.

Q - Any tips or tricks for increasing employee participation or employee engagement with health and safety? How do you create a safety culture?  

Justin - The backbone of our safety culture is that we maintain open lines of communication with employees and maintain an open-door policy with all levels of management, up to and including the president and CEO of the company. One of the ways we facilitate this is we use our Associate Involvement Program where employees can submit suggestions to improve all areas of our facility, not just EHS. These suggestions are awarded points depending on the impact of the suggestion. At certain thresholds, these points equate to money added to their payroll. This year employees will receive triple points for approved suggestions related to EHS as a reward for their efforts to improve the EHS system during these trying times. 

William - I think one of the most important things is accountability. Engaging employees to understand that they have a responsibility to make sure that they are in a safe working environment. Bringing up both deficiencies, as well as ideas for ways to improve. This can help to instill a sense of ownership and pride.

Sharon - I have found this to be especially challenging since most of our employees have been at this company for years. Complacency becomes an issue and the attitude “it’s been done this way for years” often prevails. We have a safety team that takes their activity in the Safety Committee seriously and a year ago we added additional people to the team in the position of Dept. Safety Rep for those departments that do not have a committee member representing them. I can honestly say giving people the opportunity to have a voice improves our ability to maintain a safe workplace. We do not offer incentives for safety due to the likelihood that an employee might not report an incident. We did have a tee-shirt design contest one year that all employees could participate in and vote on. The winner got a gift card and the entire facility got the tee-shirt he designed. We are currently trending on 908 days of no lost time incidents. We also do a documented monthly Safety Walk Around and I make sure we change and hang posters up throughout the years focusing on different safety concerns to keep it interesting.

Q - What advice do you have for a new safety pro just entering the EHS field?

Sharon - Use all available resources to help make sure you are in OSHA Compliance. Ask your company to join the National Safety Council, where you can find training material, posters and reports to keep you up to date on trending issues. My first step in becoming a Safety Coordinator was to obtain my 30-hour OSHA Safety Training Certificate in General Industry Safety & Health. It is also important to get a team in your facility certified in CPR, AED and first aid training. This training evolves frequently so it is really important to retrain and maintain certification. We use The American Heart Association’s training.

Justin - I stepped into the EHS field 2 years ago and one of the first things I learned is that you must have a positive relationship with the workers on the floor. They can be your eyes and ears or your enemy. They have to know that when they come to you with an issue that they will be heard, taken seriously and some action will take place. They see things happen every day on the manufacturing floor that you may not even know about. If you break their trust, they will stop relaying information to you or even worse try and hide things for fear of disciplinary action. This is especially true with maintenance workers. A good relationship with your maintenance departments is a must. 

William - I agree with Justin that new safety professionals should spend time observing the processes and working with both the supervisors and the people doing the job. This will allow you to understand how and why things are done the way that they are. As a safety professional you may have advanced knowledge and understanding of the hazards, and likely even good mitigation methods, however, if this renders the process inefficient or more difficult, then you are likely to get push back. This can be especially true in more established organizations that may be using a process that has been the same for years. This by no means is to say that the problem should not be addressed, however, I believe it is more effective to lead people to a solution rather than tell them that they are wrong, and you are right.

Q - What are your favorite resources to stay on top of safety trends? How do you continue to grow as a safety pro?

Sharon - If your employer will allow it, go to Safety Workshops. These may be provided by your company’s insurance provider. I also recommend joining a website that offers a wide variety of information and training material. We currently use Safety Compliance Alert, but there are many other resources available. 

Justin - I have signed up for every newsletter I can find related to EHS topics. I attend yearly conferences on different aspects of EHS. I also have a network of other EHS professionals from different industries in which we discuss changes in EHS regulations and how these changes have impacted our policies within the company. 

William - Personally, I utilize ASSP, both my local chapter and the national association. I also leverage the knowledge of other safety professionals every chance I get. There are so many people in our industry willing to share.