A plumbing company was happy to finally install an eyewash station near where chemicals were in use. Everything was in place, including eye wash station signs and floor markings. However, there was something wrong. The station was near live electrical sockets and wiring. While addressing one safety issue, a simple mistake led to a new hazard. Controlling hazards and risks in the workplace requires careful planning, vigilance, and use practical safety methods.
Is it easy for facilities to overlook safety issues? In a Graphic Products poll on Facebook, most safety professionals said yes, and that failures are not always about putting production ahead of safety.
“Especially situations that slowly change over time or other issues that need to be fixed but never have caused a problem (yet),” said Chris Francy, an engineer. “People start to go into autopilot unless there is meaningful interaction with safety and management. Fresh eyes are great.”
One example from the Facebook poll was how a facility was adding new hygiene protocol in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). It failed to alert workers using COVID signs and labels. Mistakes such as these are common and can be damaging.
In 2016, a manufacturer in New York began a thorough risk assessment after a few worker exposures caught the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While the facility was employing some hazard controls, it was introducing others. The company hired a third-party consultant to evaluate and recommend better practices. The facility made several new improvements.
“This result highlights the need for comprehensive risk assessment and implementation of policies, procedures, and equipment to reduce such exposure," said OSHA representative Jeffrey Rogoff.
Take Control of Safety
Any changes in the workplace can have a significant and long-lasting impact on safety. A few ways to avoid introducing new hazards is by conducting a regular risk assessment and by using the Hierarchy of Controls, which are:
- Elimination: Use design as a way to eliminate a hazard.
- Substitution: For example, switch out a toxic chemical for one that is less toxic.
- Engineer Controls: Place a barrier between the worker and the hazard.
- Administrative Controls: Alter work tasks, order, policies, timing, etc.
- Personal Protection Equipment: Use task-rated gloves, eyewear, clothing, etc.
Use the Hierarchy of Controls and work through each of the five steps to eliminate, substitute, engineer controls, administrative controls, and assign PPE. Record and review those hazards on a routine basis. Place controls at the source of the hazard, along with work paths, and at the worker level through signs, labels, and floor marking. For example, place voltage information and lockout tagout reminders on control panels. Label switches and wires, and highlight a safe working boundary using floor markings. Train employees to view the workplace with “safety eyes."
By involving workers, workplaces can improve communication and culture. From ergonomic and PPE to electrical and chemical to emergency procedures, reinforce safety best practices using signs and labels, pipe marking, and floor marking. Re-evaluate controls often as time goes on or equipment and procedures change.