Examinetics serves the compliance needs of more than 3,000 companies nationwide. We talked with three of our clients recently for a safety roundtable. Read on to learn their upcoming plans, thoughts on safety challenges and ideas to keep growing as a safety professional.
Q - What do you think will be the most important safety issues this year? What are the biggest challenges facing EHS leaders today?
SP - Business leaders are beginning to look to EHS for expanded roles as business cases develop with automation in mind. Safety professionals will be asked for input on designing informatics, incorporating new and advanced machinery into the workplace, and joining teams to provide the principles of safety to things like code review and system design.
Sadly, safety professionals are also tasked with increased awareness of violence protection, including preparedness for active shooters, which is emerging as a core competency for the generalist. I predict that Run-Hide-Fight will become the newest ubiquitous mantra alongside classics like Pull-Aim-Squeeze-Sweep.
MT - For our industry, and MSHA, contractor accidents are an issue getting more awareness. There have been more contractor fatalities over the last year. I expect a renewed focus on this area.
Q - What initiatives does your company have this year for EHS?
MT - We will be looking at a total worker health approach with an interest in personal health. We will be educating our employees on obesity, heart health, chronic illness and other personal health areas. We are looking to make safety and health a joint discussion, and improve the overall wellbeing of our people.
JG - We are getting back to basics. This means reviewing our policies and programs to ensure they are still working for us. Things do change along the way, so we need to ensure those policies and procedures are still accurate. Also on our radar are data collection programs, such as a behavioral-based program that identifies at-risk behaviors. This will ensure we use data to drive improvement and prevent future injuries.
Q - What have you learned from your hearing conservation and/or respiratory protection compliance programs?
JG - Hearing conservation is challenging, especially with an aging workforce. Hearing loss is personal and not everybody is the same according to a chart, so you really need to dig deeper into why it is happening. Also, the effort to reduce the noise level in a sanitary environment is quite challenging as well. I’m always looking for new ways to cover pumps, fan motors, etc. This is where I get our engineering department involved.
SP - When employees are exposed to noise from activities outside of the workplace, any hearing loss they may suffer can impact their life both at home and at work. Responsible employers should partner with their workforce to educate and coach with empathy towards this largely underappreciated risk. Safety professionals need to be prepared to document their actions, defend their programs and explain the regulatory framework to business leaders and counsel when questions are raised about the adequacy of their hearing conservation programs.
Q - What tips or tricks do you have for increasing employee engagement with health & safety?
SP - Employees like to know why the requirements exist and what decisions lead to certain actions, like enrollment in a protective program. Use visual and tactile training wherever possible, and engage with employees on a personal level, sharing stories and asking questions, even if the examples are rhetorical. People are hard-wired for stories, and they remember feelings better than instructions.
MT - One thing that we do is rotate the format of our safety meetings to keep it fresh and interesting. We have various meeting styles including lectures, games, and videos. We also give employees a chance to run the meeting, instead of managers, to increase interaction. We use employee observation to address new issues.
JG - Make it fun and make it simple. The more paperwork they have to fill out, the less participation you will get. Find activities that they already do on a regular basis and identify how you can capture those and give the employees credit for it. Let them earn points toward a safety day, company merchandise, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.
Q - What advice do you have for a new safety pro just entering the EHS field?
MT - It’s important to get the employees involved. Nobody wants to feel like they are being lectured. Jennifer mentioned having some fun. You obviously want your meetings and training to be informative, but if you can inject some fun that will help things along. Develop personal relationships instead of being viewed as “Big Brother.”
SP - The most intimidating thing about the safety professional role is the breadth of topics that everyone will expect you have mastered. Learn fast, but focus on creating a map of your practice space and the specific needs of your organization. Don’t be afraid to admit you need to do research, and get good at knowing where to look for answers. Also, don’t wait for a mentor to reach out to you – they won’t know you’re looking. Any momentary discomfort that might result from asking will be long forgotten with the benefits you will realize in even a short time.
JG - I agree with Spencer on focusing. My advice is “Don’t drink from the fire hose” – you will not be able to take on everything all at once. Learn the processes of the company that you are going to be working for and develop priorities based on a baseline audit. Focus on people first, then comes emergency action plans, then the rest. You will also want to build relationships with the folks that are going to help you get things done, such as engineering, maintenance, and your manager. Don’t just jump in and throw up that OSHA flag.
Q - What changes would you like to see OSHA implement?
JG - I would really like them to dig a little deeper into the work-relatedness of hearing loss. Companies spend a lot of time and money on their hearing protection programs by reducing noise, providing and fitting our people into the best hearing protection but then still get dinged on the 300 log for a hearing loss. Hearing is a personal thing. Not everyone loses their hearing at the same rate; there are some genetic issues to consider. I don’t believe that they take that into consideration.
Q - What are your favorite resources to stay on top of safety trends? How do you continue to grow as a safety pro?
SP - Connection with industry groups is always valuable, as is personal connection with colleagues. Keeping professional networks active can be challenging, but we have more tools now than ever to share ideas and ask questions. There’s wisdom in the old saying that to teach is to know – presenting information, however formally, is a great way to fill gaps incompetency.
MT - I’m in agreement on the importance of connecting with industry groups. Not only the safety industry but also groups related to your specific company vertical. For us, the Holmes Safety Association is a great resource for anyone involved in miner safety and health. I also participate in various ongoing training events to make sure I am developing my skills.