Now that you've got a good idea about the training requirements for safety committees, it's time to take a look at some of the tools available to the safety committee to identify hazards in the workplace and determine how to best correct those hazards.
Earlier, we talked about the importance of understanding the nature of workplace hazards that are manifested primarily as hazardous conditions, unsafe work practices, and ineffective administrative controls. Which of these three categories result in the most accidents?
Unfortunately, hazardous conditions alone account for as little as 3 percent of all workplace accidents. Yet, most of the time we look primarily for unsafe conditions when conducting a walk-around inspection. OSHA inspections are geared toward discovering unsafe conditions also. It's very possible that your company could conduct an inspection on Tuesday, and a fatality occur on Wednesday as a result of unsafe work practices that were not uncovered during the inspection the day before.
Unsafe work practices and behaviors account for far more accidents in the workplace, up to 95%, but what are the factors that allow those unsafe work practices to exist? That's the key to a safe workplace.
Poor or missing safety management system components account for just about 98% of all workplace accidents. However, there are instances when system weaknesses are working and cannot be judged as the root cause for an accident:
When OSHA investigates accidents, they generally write citations addressing four general violation categories.
As borne out by OSHA fatality accident investigation reports, the vast majority of injuries occur in these four violation categories. Consequently, safety committees need to look at them as the "Big 4" system weaknesses and focus on them in safety inspections and accident analyses.
Effective safety management, which is an organizational skill, does not allow these system weaknesses to exist in the workplace. The employer has the ability to develop safety management systems that address the vast majority of hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices in the workplace. I believe there is always a way to fix the system to reduce hazards and exposures to an acceptable level.
A hazardous condition may be thought of as a "state of being" that exists. All workplaces contain hazardous conditions in any one or more of the five categories below. It is easy to remember the categories by using the "MEEPS" acronym:
Simply put, unsafe behaviors are what we do or don't do that result in an injury or illness. These include work procedures that increase the likelihood of an injury. Unsafe employee behaviors represent, by far, the highest percentage of direct surface causes for accidents in the workplace. But, what fosters unsafe behaviors? Inappropriate management-level behaviors.
Employees make choices about safety each day: They may choose to work safely, or they may choose to ignore safety. Employees do what they do in the workplace because of the consequences they think will follow.
Employee actions depend in large measure on the nature of the safety culture they work within. For instance, if your company has large machinery or equipment, you probably have a lockout/tagout program that requires employees to follow specific procedures. Deciding to bypass those procedures would represent an unsafe behavior.
In a worst-case scenario, employees may work within a culture that actually encourages unsafe behaviors. On the other hand, they may work within a safety culture that expects and insists on high standards of safety behavior. Ultimately, employee behaviors in the workplace depend on the safety culture (leadership) and safety system design (management).
Safety is too important for supervisors and managers to merely "encourage". They must display and insist on safe behaviors that produce safe conditions. Failure to do so may produce unsafe employee behaviors and hazardous conditions throughout all levels in the organization. As position and responsibility increase, so does the impact of unsafe management-level behaviors. Examples of unsafe management-level decisions and behaviors include:
The solution to both types of management-level behavior failures is to make sure supervisors, managers, and executives are properly educated on the importance of safety and how to demonstrate safety leadership.
Every company formulates some sort of safety management system (SMS) to ensure the workplace is safe and healthful. Safety management systems may be designed to meet various goals: to maintain OSHA compliance, achieve higher profits, and/or protect valued employees. Ultimately SMS design and performance strengths and weaknesses represent the root causes determining the degree to which the company's safety culture is successful.
Since weaknesses in safety management system design and performance result in hazards and behaviors that cause accidents, ultimately "fixing the system" is the most effective hazard control strategy in creating a safe and healthful workplace. Typical components of an effective SMS include:
Bottom line: Safety management systems must be designed and deployed effectively or the results will be flawed. If system design is flawed, it doesn't matter how effective deployment is; the result will not be what was intended.
Your ability to identify hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices can be very effective if you are given the correct tools. We'll talk about two such tools below.
The first important tool is rather obvious: It's the safety inspection or audit. Three important points should be remembered when conducting the safety inspection.
Advantages: Checklists, when properly constructed help you inspect for hazardous conditions and unsafe work procedures in a structured, systematic manner. If a checklist is not used, it's more likely that quality will suffer over time. Without a checklist, the conduct of the inspection will vary widely from person to person, depending on their expertise.
Disadvantages: Simply put, checklists take time to construct: time you may not have. But the long-term advantages far outweigh the short term effort. A second disadvantage is that using a checklist might cause the dreaded "tunnel vision" syndrome when an inspector overlooks a hazard in the workplace because it was not addressed in the checklist. The cure for this common disease is to merely place a "catch-all" question into the checklist that asks if there are any other hazards that need to be corrected.
The Job Hazard Analysis or "JHA" is a less used procedure to identify and control hazards in the workplace, but it is considered far more effective in reducing injuries and illnesses. The JHA procedures go something like this:
The JHA is far more effective than the walk-around inspection because it systematically identifies unsafe work conditions, behaviors, and practices. The safety inspector conducting a traditional safety inspection may not take the time necessary to watch each job being performed in the area he or she inspects. Consequently, many unsafe work procedures are not discovered. The Job Hazard Analysis does require the time necessary to uncover unsafe work practices and procedures.
"What?" you may ask... is the OSHA 300 Log? What is it good for? In the USA, the OSHA 300 Log is probably one of the best statistical tools you have in analyzing long-term hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices.
Take a look at each column of your company's OSHA 300 Log and ask Who, What, Where, When and How questions about each entry. Take the information you gain from this analysis to draw conclusions about where your greatest effort needs to be directed. For instance, most lost workday claims are due to strains and sprains. Your OSHA 300 Log may reflect this trend. At any rate, analyzing the OSHA 300 Log allows you to act on facts, not hunches.
Think about this too: When an OSHA compliance officer comes to inspect, he or she will always review your OSHA 300 Log. The Log will tell the OSHA compliance officer exactly where accidents are occurring and what kind of injuries and illnesses are happening. At that point the compliance officer knows where to put emphasis in the inspection. Make sure all hazards identified on the OSHA 300 Log are corrected! You can learn more about OSHA recordkeeping in OSHAcademy course 708 OSHA Recordkeeping Basics.
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