We are pleased to continue our Safety Roundtable Series in the New Year. This year, we hope to bring you a variety of thoughts, advice, tips and tricks from health and safety professionals across a variety of industries.
Q - What initiative(s) does your company/facility/department have this year for EHS?
Eric - We took a very proactive stance in 2020 and introduced Behavior-Based Observations to our teams. It has made our supervisors and managers spend more time in the trades, and work side by side with their employees. We have seen positive results from our field employees as they comment on seeing their supervisors more. We have also seen a drastic decline in field injuries and improved ergonomics in our employees.
Elizabeth - I am located within one of ten facilities. My site’s goal by the end of 2021 is to become the center of excellence for training. When a new hire comes into the company, we want them to come to Jacksonville first. We are going to teach them hands-on the information that they will critically need to be successful for the rest of their career. It will take time and development to create what will likely be a 1-2 week onboarding program; but the reward will be reduced turnover, reduced safety incidents, and we will provide transferrable skills for employees who may move into another department during their tenure with our company.
Corey - Due to all the changes brought about by COVID, a huge challenge for all of us in safety will be to maintain our focus on our corporate initiatives in an environment where people are being tasked with more than in previous years. People will be pushed to their limits, but we must stay diligent and redouble our efforts to keep Safety First.
Q - What have you learned from your hearing conservation and/or respiratory protection compliance programs?
Elizabeth - We received new machinery in 2020 which changed our decibel levels and required additional PPE. We had to be proactive and very quick in purchasing appropriate protection and ensuring a good fit. I was pleased when our annual hearing testing occurred in December and we found that there were no concerns raised. Being ahead of the curve and constantly asking the questions of “How might this impact hearing conservation” allowed our site to adapt quickly to the new need.
Corey - Little changes can go a long way. Small things like looking at the decibel rating of pneumatic tools, the positioning of machines, machining strategics and workstation locations can significantly reduce the decibel level employees are exposed to. And all of the small things added up can make a big difference.
Eric - When I first came on board, I found out we were not ensuring all personnel was receiving the annual testing as required. Since then, we have been able to identify those who need to have the testing and ensure it gets completed. We also have new people rotate from other areas in the facility and recognized that they must also be tested within 30 days of their new position. It has made us look into our program deeper to ensure we are staying in compliance.
Q - Any tips or tricks for increasing employee participation or employee engagement with health and safety? How do you create a safety culture?
Corey - We ask our employees to do two things. One, watch out for their own safety. Two, watch out for the safety of others. By keeping it simple with common goals, we get more participation. We have also empowered our employees to “Speak Up for Safety”. If they see something that is unsafe and remain silent, they are condoning unsafe behavior. Safety is a total group effort.
Eric - Employee participation is not about doing a survey once a year to get a feel for the culture; it is about listening to your teams and hearing what they have to say. We engage our employees in focus groups and include them in meetings that pertain to their jobs. I may think I understand their jobs, but I have learned more from them just listening to their challenges. This has made a better all-around program. Safety culture takes time and effort, so you cannot give up. If you tell an employee you are going to do something, you better follow up and do it. This is how you build trust and openness with them and then they are more willing to come up to you with concerns.
Elizabeth - To add to what Eric said, the most important aspect is to be present and engaged as a member of management. Be there with the employees, do the work alongside them, ask the questions and admit that you don’t know all of their struggles or what workarounds that they have created. Be their partner and understand their concerns. By doing this, you gain their wisdom. By acting on their concerns, you’re solving immediate problems for your front line workers, while greatly reducing safety risks. By acting timely, you earn their trust. This is where the engagement circle both begins and ends. You have to get in it with them!
Q - What advice do you have for a new safety pro just entering the EHS field?
Elizabeth - Find mentors for your role. Ask questions! If you don’t know the answer, be sure to let someone know that you don’t have the answer but plan on researching it and will get back to them. Research, study, ask questions and then circle back around to that individual and follow up on your findings. This practice gives you the moment you need to deliver quality information.
Eric - Do not be a safety professional behind a desk - be out in the field with your teams and learn their jobs. By immersing yourself in what your teams do, you learn more of how to help them and understand what challenges face them each day. I have done many ride-alongs with my delivery drivers and I have learned more from them than they learn from me. I walk the floor in our production area and see the process work and converse with the team. Many safety concerns have been fixed by being on the floor to see the issue firsthand. It is a great opportunity to build trust and respect for every facet of every job at your company.
Q - What are your favorite resources to stay on top of safety trends? How do you continue to grow as a safety pro?
Corey - I subscribe to several safety newsletters and professional magazines. I also make time to network with other safety professionals
Eric - The safety publications help to see what is going on in the field. They provide a timely opportunity to see what new technologies and opportunities are available to me and my teams. I also have a great team of other Safety Managers in my company and we collaborate all the time. If one of us has a question, we can simply ask around to our colleagues. Corey mentioned networking - I also have a network of safety professionals in other fields I converse with that provide me insights and guidance. Bottom line is that I realize I am not alone in this job; I have a large amount of resources to help me out
Elizabeth - Networking has been more difficult due to COVID, but online meetings have allowed for quick discussions with other professionals to share best practices and continuous improvement. I’ve found technology has helped fill in the gap. I discovered YouTube channels of similar industries and joined podcasts - “Warehouse Safety Tips”, and “The Case for Safety” are my top three picks.