By Joan Shirikian-Hesselton
Before we can even begin a discussion on setting up a successful safety program, a precast company must have one common cornerstone on which to build. The single most important element of a precast concrete facility’s safety program is generally the most overlooked and undervalued item: top management commitment. If company employees perceive that top management isn’t fully committed to safety, the facility safety program will be undermined.
Company employees at all levels, from front-line laborers to high-level managers, support the items they know their top managers value. If safety isn’t one of those values, employees will not embrace safety. It will not matter how well the safety policies are written or how new the safety equipment is, employees will not take safety seriously if they do not think top management is truly committed to the safety program.
Safety needs to be a top management value. Safety must be considered a value, not just a priority. This is intentional, because there is a significant distinction between values and priorities. Values are very consistent and do not change. Priorities, on the other hand, change based on circumstances, time and, in the precast concrete industry, the hierarchy of orders. Safety can never become something that is prioritized, becoming a top priority only when it is convenient and then forced to take a back seat to manufacturing schedules, quality, raw material availability, maintenance schedules or other production concerns. Safety must always be maintained as a top value – it cannot be sacrificed.
Once safety is identified as executive management’s top value, the next step is to identify what is needed to establish and maintain a solid safety program at the precast/prestress plant. OSHA states that regardless of the industry or the size of the facility, four basic elements are required for any good safety and health program:
- Management support and employee involvement
- Worksite analysis
- Hazard prevention and control
- Training for employees, supervisors and managers
The components that make up each of these elements can be categorized into technical constituents and behavioral constituents. While the distinction is not always clear between the two, it is clear that a combination of both technical and behavioral components is required to ensure a successful safety program. It is also clear that these four basic elements will be required to achieve and maintain a successful safety program whether the precast facility is in the United States or Canada. The only difference will be some of the specific regulatory requirements.
It is natural for management support and employee involvement to be a key safety program element. Both complement the support executive management has shown for the safety program. Just as the safety program will falter if management commitment cannot be maintained, it should be no surprise that strong employee involvement is required to ensure the safety program succeeds. It is through their active participation in the safety program that employees will accept responsibility for all aspects of the program.
As employees begin to assume responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others within the workplace, their attitudes and behavior toward safety will begin to change. As attitudes change, employees will assume more ownership of the safety program, and their involvement will foster continued commitment to workplace safety. Change takes time but it is worth it, because as employees assume responsibility for safety a workplace safety culture begins to develop.
The worksite analysis will help identify site-specific safety issues. Precast facilities experience many of the same basic hazards and health issues; however, it is essential that each individual site performs a site-specific hazard analysis. The topics for site-specific safety plans will be identified through the worksite analysis and applicable regulatory requirements (OSHA, State plan, CCOHS, etc.). These findings will also be the foundation for other key program items necessary to achieve and maintain a successful safety program such as inspection forms, action lists, maintenance schedules and housekeeping items.
The basic facility safety plan will address the company’s safety philosophy and general safety issues and also include information regarding the use of the worksite analysis. The safety plan should become the introduction to the site-specific safety manual. Along with the company’s safety philosophy, the manual needs to include a safety commitment statement from the top executive. The various topic-specific safety plans, trainings, checklists and other site-specific component details will follow this overall safety plan and be a part of the site-specific safety manual.
The worksite evaluation is a tool that needs to be incorporated into the overall safety program. While the initial use is a tool to gather information to assist in building the program basics, it will not be a single-use item. The worksite analysis is used on an ongoing basis to ensure the safety program stays current as changes are made within the facility. It is used to continually analyze the worksite to ensure items are not missed due to changes, complacency or mere oversight. It is a tool that gets incorporated into the safety program and needs to be used on a routine basis, not just as a startup program activity.
The mechanism for using the worksite analysis as part of the safety program needs to be incorporated into the basic safety plan.
As the plans and procedures are developed, they need to identify what activities are required along with who will have the responsibilities for each activity. Activities can and often should be broken out into sections assigning specific areas to different individuals to ensure no individual becomes overloaded with tasks. This will also help involve more employees in the safety responsibilities.
Whatever the action (worksite evaluation, inspection, training, safety meeting, toolbox talk, accident/incident report or investigation, corrective action) there needs to be a mechanism in place to assure sufficient and accurate documentation and that records are generated and maintained. Depending on the type of activity, there may be regulatory requirements concerning what records are required.
Throughout the worksite analysis and safety plan development process, it is important that employees from all levels are involved to ensure development is not left just in the hands of management. This is another way employees become empowered to further develop the safety culture at the precast facility.
Hazard prevention and control is another significant element of the safety program. Hazards can be identified by a number of different processes; the most proactive methods will involve identifying and controlling the hazards before an injury or physical damage occurs. This can be done through pre-job planning, frequent inspections, by near-miss reports, through worksite analysis, industrial hygiene monitoring, job safety analysis (JSA) or any other mechanism that works for the individual facility. Whatever method is used, it is most beneficial if employees are involved in the process. Employee-based proactive programs such as JSAs, routine inspections and near-miss reporting have proven to greatly reduce injuries and incidents as well as equipment breakdown.
Hazard prevention and control is a component of good housekeeping. Good housekeeping is a very important element of any safety program. It would be a rare thing to find a facility with consistently good housekeeping and poor safety, or vice versa. The two go hand in hand. Employees need to take ownership of housekeeping and assume responsibility for ensuring their facility is maintained in a good, sound condition. No job is complete until the area and equipment is left in a clean state.
Without safety training for employees, including supervisors and managers, the safety program would never become a cohesive program – nor would it have technical merit. Therefore, training is an essential element of the safety program. All employees require basic safety training. Specialized training may also be required for specific equipment or custom tasks and environments such as LOTO, confined space entries and forklift operation. There are different types of safety training including new task training, refresher training, regulatory required training and corrective action training.
All training that is performed needs to be documented. At a minimum, the documentation needs to include who attended the training, what was covered, who provided the training and when the training was delivered. Certain regulations have additional requirements that may specify items such as how long training records need to be maintained and certain requirements regarding certification statements and curriculum specifications.
New employee safety orientation is a very important issue. Before an employee is hired, it is important that prospective applicants are provided with a true picture of what the job entails and what the work environment is like. It is essential that a good match for the job is obtained. It is also essential that pre-employment physicals or strength testing is consistent with all federal and state laws.
Once an employee is hired, the safety orientation program the employee receives can actually determine much of that employee’s future with the company. Many new employees are injured within the first six months on the job and others do not feel comfortable at the facility, so they do not stay with the company. This becomes very expensive for the company in both time and actual costs. It can also mean the facility is constantly shorthanded or is operating with inexperienced employees.
A new employee actually needs to be brought current with all safety procedures involved in an activity before undertaking that work activity. There generally is too much information to deliver in one sitting if the employee is going to retain the information. Therefore it is best to break the information into segments and deliver it in shorter sessions as an ongoing activity, allowing the employee time to become familiar with the material provided. There also needs to be a system in place to ensure there are competent people available that the employee is comfortable approaching when questions arise.
Some precast companies have found assigning new employees a buddy helps safely integrate them into the workplace. Others assign new employees a specific hardhat color so that all employees recognize new employees as novices and can provide them special attention. Another best practice is to set a specific schedule for the new employee to meet with the supervisor, safety manager and plant manager as a follow-up to each training session. This provides the new employee a set time to ask questions and review items that have come up since the training. It also shows a common ground between safety and production.
The best new employee orientation and training processes are identified when current supervisors and employees at the facility are involved in their development. Once developed, the process and appropriate logs for tracking the training sessions should be incorporated into the overall safety plans.
As mentioned earlier, new employee training isn’t the only employee training that is required. Refresher training is required. Training is always required if an employee starts a new task or if an employee is observed breaking a safety rule. Other training schedules vary depending on the individual topic and the applicable regulations.
Other components that follow behavioral-based principals may include incentive programs, job safety analysis, employee participation activities or whatever works at an individual facility. What remains important is to ensure employees stay involved, records are maintained and all regulatory requirements are met. Unfortunately, even in behavioral-based safety programs, there still need to be consequences if the situation occurs where procedures are not followed.
As mentioned earlier, top management must commit itself to placing safety as one of the company’s values, and the employees must know this. The four basic elements will then provide a solid foundation for a successful and effective safety program.
The Safety Committee
Within employee-based safety programs, one very important tool is the safety committee. It is the main forum for employees to work with management regarding safety and take ownership of their own workplace safety program. Employees should be involved in establishing and documenting every aspect of the safety committee.
The safety committee should not be dominated by management; it should be an open environment allowing employees to meet with management regarding safety. It should never be put on the back burner. There should always be an established and published schedule for safety committee meetings. Employees on the committee have responsibilities. They need to survey all employees prior to meetings for topics and concerns to address at the meeting, and following each meeting committee members need to report back to employees regarding what transpired at the meeting. Meetings must be documented with agendas and minutes that are generated and published in a timely manner.
Topics for Self-Inspection Checklists, Safety Plans and Training
These checklists are by no means all-inclusive. You should add to them or delete items that do not apply to your business; however, carefully consider each item and then make your decision. You should refer to OSHA (CCOHS) standards for specific guidance that may apply to your work situation.
(Note: These checklists are typical for general industry but not for construction or maritime industries.)
- Employer posting
- Safety and health program
- Fire protection
- Medical services and first aid
- Personal protective equipment & clothing
- General work environment
- Floor and wall openings
- Walkways, stairs and stairways
- Elevated surfaces
- Exiting or egress – evacuation
- Portable ladders
- Exit doors
- Hand tools and equipment
- Portable (power operated) tools & equipment
- Abrasive wheel equipment grinders
- Machine guarding
- Power-actuated tools
- Lockout/tagout procedures
- Welding, cutting and brazing
- Compressors and compressed air
- Compressors/air receivers
- Industrial trucks – forklifts
- Compressed gas cylinders
- Hoist and auxiliary equipment
- Spraying operations
- Entering confined spaces
- Environmental controls
- Flammable and combustible materials
- Hazardous chemical exposure
- Hazardous substances communication
- Identification of piping systems
Joan Shirikian-Hesselton is presently working as an independent Occupational Safety and Health consultant. She has more than 30 years of experience in Occupational Safety and Health in both the public and private sectors, which includes a decade of dedicated experience in the precast/prestressed concrete industry. She is a past NPCA Safety Committee chair, and she has worked with OSHA as a Special Government Employee.