When you mention safety, some managers think how much will it cost? My company can’t afford it. This article will change your mind. It will discuss the true costs/benefits of a safety program. Costs are lower than you imagine, while benefits are many. To begin, we “ALL” agree safety is a good thing! Advantages of a good safety program are far reaching.

A real life experience. I worked for a company whose workman’s comp claims were in excess of 10 claims per year for the past six years. When I started with this company, it was in the spring and they already incurred five accidents, which included a total of 181 days of lost time that additional workers needed to cover for the employees that were unable to work. The cost to our workman’s comp provider was $390,000. The company had been labeled “extreme high risk,” which translated to high premiums. With some very simple changes, along with employee and management involvement, we were able to prove our risk factor should be lowered, and it was. Because of our reduced risk, our new reduced insurance rates more than paid for all the expenses of bringing the facility to high safety standards.

Another real-life experience is when two reach trucks collided and one of the operators stuck his foot out and got it smashed between the reach trucks. We had the reach trucks serviced regularly and could prove that with our service records. Both operators were certified reach truck operators. After tending to the injured employee and getting him to the hospital (The reach trucks were not moved.), we called our repair service to send the best technician out to evaluate both vehicles. (Both reach trucks were in good mechanical working order, including the brakes.) We had our equipment inspection sheets for both machines up-to-date. It was determined the cause of the accident was operator error. We still were responsible for the medical bills and the time the employee spent out of work. However, we avoided a large lawsuit, as we had all our documentation in order, and we were able to prove it.

All safety issues should be addressed immediately. If a safety issue cannot be immediately corrected, as would be if a piece of equipment became faulty while in operation, then that equipment must be put out of service until it is repaired. A lockout tag-out system should be in place. But if not, a lockout tag-out system can be put into place very easily.

Implementing a Safety Program

Review Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) will increase morale in the workplace because of the companies concern for their employee’s welfare. The company’s insurance rates should go down, (If not, switch insurance companies.) as you will be taking steps to reduce the risk of claims and protect your employees from harm. There are many steps to take which are a one-time expense. Meetings must be held a head of time explaining to the staff the changes that are on the way and that it is for their safety. Call your insurance agent to make them aware of your efforts in advance. These one-time expenses that I refer to are “Red” and “Blue” area zones, identification, emergency lights, installation of adhesive “exit” signs and “no exit” signs. Equipment inspection sheets are an important safety detail that cannot be over looked. Have monthly facility check sheets and start a safety committee.

A Red Zone area (Review 1910.37 in the OSHA handbook) is at least a 3- x 3-foot area in front of each emergency exit, each electrical panel, each electrical main shut off and each fire extinguisher/fire hose. This is probably part of your local fire code to keep these areas clutter free, and it makes logical sense. In a Red Zone, you can walk through it or drive equipment through it and nothing can be left unattended -- no pallets, no carts, no boxes, no ice melt, no snow shovels, nothing. This is all part of good housekeeping and should be done. The Red Zone is a great visual reminder. Your local fire inspector will give you high marks for doing this, as will your insurance risk auditor. This requires designating the area’s red floor paint and someone to paint the floor areas. All fire extinguishers/fire hoses should be numbered, which will be explained later in this article.

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A Blue Zone area requires a designated area where there is no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Review 1910.132 in the OSHA handbook to determine if PPE is required. If you are in a work environment that no PPE is required, you can skip this part. If not, do this by designating an area or multiple areas in your facility and paint the floor blue with blue floor paint. This is recommended if your facility requires the wearing of hard hats. It gives employees a place to take a quick break in the summer heat. I have seen these areas used as a place to keep a water cooler (which can be a 2- to 5-gallon igloo cooler) and a fan. When a facility gets over 100 degrees, these “oasis” areas are welcomed by the employees. The company could provide the Powered Gatorade or not. This I consider to be part of safety. If an employee falls due to the heat, it will cost the company more than the price of a season’s worth of Gatorade.

Emergency exit lights (Review 1910.37 in the OSHA handbook) are usually part of the local building code. These should already be installed. (They need to be in working order and must be maintained). If you have ever been in a facility when for whatever reason the power goes out, you know how important these emergency exit lights are -- especially if you are driving a piece of equipment. If the lights go out, all drivers should stop the piece of equipment in a safe location as soon as possible and walk cautiously to the nearest exit. All employees should stop the task they are doing and walk to the nearest exit. All employees should meet in the designated emergency meeting spot. This is one central location where all employees can be accounted for by their supervisor.

Plastic adhesive Exit and No Exit signs (Review 1910.37 in the OSHA handbook) are needed over both sides of each doorway. If there is access to the outside, even if it leads to another room with outside access, an exit sign should be installed. This may sound insane, but storage closets should have a sign above the outside of the doorway stating: “No Exit.” On the inside of the storage closet, you should have a sign “Exit.” Is this over kill? Maybe, but it is better to be safe than sorry later. Adhesive signs should be numbered, which will be explained later in this article. These signs can be purchased from Uline.

Equipment Inspection Sheets

Review 1910.178 in the OSHA handbook. Each piece of motorized equipment needs an inspection sheet. The inspection sheet needs to cover all vital safety components. These are to include the horn, steering, operating brakes, emergency brake, all lifting and lowering controls, plus anything you feel is important for the safe operation of that specific piece of equipment. A very important part of the inspection sheet is the signature of the person filling out the inspection sheet and the date. At the end of the day or shift, these sheets need to be collected, reviewed by a manager, signed by that manager and filed in a safe place, hard copy or computer file. Each piece of equipment needs to be clearly numbered: all four sides is preferred, but two sides will suffice. In addition, if the equipment requires a battery charger each charger should be numbered with the same number as the equipment it charges. This is to avoid plugging in the wrong machine to the wrong voltage charger. Remember, keep it as simple as possible. An inspection sheet must be filled out each eight hours when multiple shifts are needed or once per day if only a first shift is required.

Monthly Facility Check Sheet

Review Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) should be a comprehensive list starting in one area and covering each safety item in the facility, which should be checked each month. Each Exit sign, No Exit sign, emergency lights and fire extinguisher/fire hose needs to be numbered with a unique number in order to ensure each one has been checked each month. As diligent as you will be when numbering each safety item, bets are you will miss one or two on your first attempt. If this occurs, add it at the end as long as the safety item is numbered and you check it off as being in working order. The actual number does not matter. It just makes it easier if they run in sequence. Remember, if it is not documented, then tomorrow you can’t prove safety items were checked. What about in 15 months from now? Can you prove safety items were checked? This needs to be a formal written document -- dated and signed -- and kept in a readily accessible place (hard copy or computer file).

Start a Safety Committee

Review Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). This is an important part of reducing your risk. Every facility has employees who are more attuned to safety than others. Use this to your advantage and ask them to be the start of the company’s safety committee. Everyone is part of safety. If one employee watches another employee perform a task that is questionable and does not say anything, they are just as responsible as the person performing the unsafe procedure. Empower every employee with the authority to say, “The way you are doing that is unsafe. Let’s take a minute and figure out a way to do this same task in a safe manner. I will help you.” Have the safety committee meet on a regular basis (once per month, more if needed) to discuss safety issues and provide lunch for them. This is money well spent. It gives the safety committee a purpose. Notes (to include attendees, date and signatures) should be taken and filed. These employees are the ones the employees on the floor should go through with long-term ideas. You may need to have safety committee members on multiple shifts.

Here is a great example of everyone having the authority to stop unsafe behavior. My boss, a top executive, came to the facility. We required hard hats to be worn. My boss walked into the work area without his hard hat. The first employee that witnessed this was more than happy to ask a vice president to turn around and to put on his hard hat. We were so thrilled by this employee’s action that we mentioned it at the next safety meeting and gave him a gift card. We all, including my boss, knew that we had achieved the true sense of safety.

In conclusion, safety is important to everyone. I have told people for many years that if everyone goes home in the same condition they walk into the facility, I have done my job. I have never had to make a call to a loved one to tell them the person they love will not be coming home. This would be a beyond terrible call to make. Accidents will happen. Minimize your risk. Minimize the frequency. Minimize the severity.

The total cost of everything mentioned in this article is less than $2,000, which would include the labor or contractor painting the floor where needed.

By putting these simple measures into place, you will be taking care of your valued employees, save your company money and sleep better at night.