Successful Health and Safety Program
Want a successful health and safety program? With these 14 essential elements, you are sure to succeed! No, this isn’t like the hype for one of those trendy diet programs that will magically shed pounds and inches from your waistline or one of those get rich quick systems featured on late-night infomercials that will allow you to stay home by the pool, work only minutes a day, and triple your income.
This is, however, a recipe for success for developing a solid, comprehensive approach to protecting your employees from potential hazards in the workplace.
These 14 elements represent a consensus of opinions of health and safety professionals from research conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC).1This compilation represents a framework for modeling an effective health and safety program or a basis for performing gap analysis on your existing approach. These elements are compatible with the Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) required in some states.
In past issues we have discussed many of these items as stand alone topics but looking back we realized we have never really provided a holistic picture of how a health and safety program should be structured.
Instead of trying to reinvent an already good approach we will present the same program elements and same order as the NSC with added commentary and explanation. In practice, these are all interrelated and a single issue will generally overlap into many of the elements listed below. So let’s get started.
Hazard Recognition, Evaluation, and Control
This element is key to any health and safety program. When asked, most people on the street would say is this is what a safety program is all about. This involves proactive hazard recognition in terms of environment (the surroundings of the workers), the people actually doing the work, equipment/materials used in the work process, and processes/practices themselves.
A formal “Job Hazard Analysis” assists with the process and is integral to many of the other elements listed below. In the lab, as part of the Chemical Hygiene Plan, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a product of this element.
Once hazards have been identified and prioritized they must be controlled. The generally accepted hierarchy of controls is elimination/substitution, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and administrative controls.
Workplace Design and Engineering
We often see failure in this aspect when we are called in to solve a problem. Designing safety into a workplace is as important as designing in efficiency (and these often go hand in hand). Some of this is already done by building code (e.g., electrical standards, fire suppression, and egress requirements) but other aspects must be consciously addressed such as ergonomics, ventilation, and noise requirements for the anticipated work at hand, equipment and machine safeguarding, materials handling and storage, use of automated processes, and added reserve capacity.
Safety Performance Management
This can be thought of as the measurable actions of employees in relation to safety in their work. Performance measurement should reflect how workers (management and workers alike) are actually doing compared to applicable regulatory requirements and identified corporate goals. This should include a system of accountability for meeting those standards within their control.
Regulatory Compliance Management
Animal care facilities must meet OSHA, EPA, DOT, and often accreditation agency specific standards. Non-compliance can have serious ramifications in terms of financial liability (penalties and fines), institutional reputation, and in some cases the ability to continue operations.
It is very important to have a mechanism for staying informed and complying with existing regulations and standards. It is also very important to keep abreast of new or evolving regulations that will impact your operations. A self-assessment or assessment conducted by an outside party is a good tool for determining level of compliance.
The nature and scope of an occupational health program can vary widely from company to company. Often in animal care settings one might expect pre-employment health evaluations, periodic medical surveillance, injury protocols (including first aid and bite/scratch procedures) and maintenance of medical records, and coordination with the departments when work related health and safety issues arise.
One might typically find coordination of respiratory protection and hearing conservation programs within the Occupational Health component of a program.
Information is the lifeblood for proper decision making. Equally important to collection of information is its subsequent management. We have seen situations where important information had been collected but never analyzed nor distributed to those with a need. Much of the safety and health information collected must be managed properly to maintain regulatory compliance.
Employee involvement in all aspects of a safety and health program benefits both the employees and management. The front line employees have experienced and seen issues and problems that might not otherwise be recognized by management. It also serves as a bridge of understanding for actions taken by the employer in terms of heath and safety.
Motivation, Behavior, and Attitudes
The goal of this element is to change behavior and attitude to promote a safer and healthier workplace. It places great value on visible management leadership and support for changing unsafe behaviors, attitudes, and work processes. One additional key component is the reinforcement of the desired behaviors through positive recognition.
Training and Orientation
Training can assume a variety of forms from classroom style to hands-on, from general concepts to task specific. Besides the need for safety training from a regulatory standpoint it is critical that employees know what to do to perform their jobs correctly and safely.
Communication within the organization keeps employees informed of new and existing policies, procedures, lessons learned, and missions. Likewise it provides avenues from the front line to upper management for consideration in the development and revision of those polices. The flow of information in both directions is critical for an effective health and safety program.
Management and Control of External Exposures
This might be considered incident or emergency planning. Plans need to be developed for emergencies such as severe weather, incidents stemming from contractor or “neighborhood incidents,” and manmade issues such as protestors or activists.
Environmental management is a broad and complex enough issue that it requires a program of its own. Often there is overlap of duties and as such, environmental management is grouped under the health and safety program umbrella. Issues from proper permitting to preventing potential environmental liability are considered in this element.
Workplace Planning and Staffing
In providing an effective safety and health program effective human resource management is critical. It includes development of accurate job descriptions to take into consideration job duties (such as respirator use or hearing protection use, manual material handling, exposure to allergens) that may trigger the need for pre-employment evaluations and medical surveillance.
Limiting exposures by administrative controls or other safety considerations (e.g. tasks requiring two people) and development of safety rules would both be considered in this element.
Assessments, Audits, and Evaluations
This final set of tools provides a measure for how an organization is doing in terms of health and safety. These are used to monitor compliance, behaviors, and provide a yardstick for discerning progress. A variety of tools are required to address these needs. These can be performed by in-house staff, committees, as part of a job task, or with outside consultants. The assessment results serve as a springboard for improvement.
We have just skimmed the surface. With this discussion we hoped to provide you with a starting point for review of your own program, to identify any holes, and to provide a catalyst to move forward. This approach fits well with many of the process improvement models that organizations have adopted. This may not cause you to lose unwanted pounds, or make you rich without effort, but it will help those you work with return home each night in as good condition as they arrived at work that morning.
1. 14 Elements of a Successful Safety and Health Program, National Safety Council 1994