This year Labor Rights Week focused on reminding ALL U.S workers their right to a safe, healthy and hazard-free workplace. As employers, it’s critical to protect your workers by building a strong safety culture both from the top down and bottom up! Not only organizational safety leaders should proactively develop an effective safety training program, but jobsite workers must be included in all safety and health planning also. We’ve heard of unfortunate mistakes made by several employers in the recent period, such as failure to implement fall protection system, lack of training on machine safety procedures known as lockout/tagout, as well as exposing workers to blocked exits, fall hazards, amputation and chemical hazards. These losses could have been prevented by effective safety training on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), how to prevent slips, trips, and falls, avoid electrical hazards, and more. It’s important to note that providing training is completely different from developing an effective, on-going safety training program, as part of building a strong safety culture (Why should you care? We discussed the benefits of a strong safety culture here).
This blog will explain the role of jobsite workers in ensuring workplace safety and best practices for safety leadership.
Jobsite Workers’ Role for Increased Safety
The SmartMarket Report 2016 found that recognition of jobsite workers’ important role for increased workplace safety has been growing from 2012 to 2015. While only 66 percent of respondents rated jobsite workers’ involvement an essential aspect of a world-class safety program in 2012, the latest data shows a leaping 85 percent of respondents who agreed so, ranking it now the topmost aspect. Jobsite workers perform work onsite daily, thus are more likely to be aware of near-misses, hazards, and other safety issues. Moreover, they usually are the first to be affected by any occupational health and safety initiatives. Thus, their inputs would make a great impact on the effectiveness of workplace safety programs in place.
More Than an Open Door Policy
The majority of SmartMarket Report 2016 respondents reported that workers are encouraged to report unsafe conditions and near-misses on more than 70% of their projects. While this is good news, when asked if workers’ inputs are collected on site safety and health conditions or job-hazard analysis, only one third reported that this occurs on most of their projects. An open door policy and established formal communication procedure regarding workplace hazards and safety issues, though extremely important, aren’t enough! Safety leaders must engage employees at all levels of an organization, especially jobsite workers, in job-hazard analysis and developing safety programs. This interaction process is known as “safety leadership.” To do so, safety leaders need to encourage everyone in the organization to be responsible for safety, address this topic in meetings, send out clear and constant communications on why you want to involve them, and how that would benefit both the employees and the organization. The tactics to approach different groups and individuals may differ. For example, email may generate responses from office employees, yet for workers on a construction site or in a warehouse, a steel-encased PC kiosk on the site floor, meetings, or other forms of communication would be more appropriate. Last but not least, follow up with the person who made suggestions on your progress of addressing them, even if it’s a “Sorry, but here’s why.” They need to feel that their feedback is valuable and that their leader does act on it!
Stop Work Authority
Another common practice that many companies are well aware of but not yet to implement is providing jobsite workers the authority, responsibility and obligation to stop work if it’s perceived to be unsafe working condition. According to Eddie Greer, former director of business development for the Champaign, IL-based Board of Certified Safety Professionals, in a Safety and Health Magazine’s article, “If we make stop-work authority part of the culture, and they did it every time there’s an issue, then a lot of fatalities and injuries would go away.” There have been concerns that even if Stop Work Authority policy is in place, workers still fear some form of punishment if they do so. Therefore, safety leaders are responsible for heavily endorsing such policy, if adopted. Evaluation is a very critical step when implementing Stop-Work Authority policy. Thorough investigation after each incident and corrective actions or additional training must be delivered timely after. It’s not a “blame game” after all, it’s about being aware of and acknowledging an existing issue, learning why and how it happened, then correcting it.