Creating an Accident Prevention Program

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OVERVIEW [top]

How important is accident prevention on the job? Consider these facts provided by the National Safety Council:

  • Every day, 14 Americans are killed at work. That death toll is equivalent to a major airline disaster every two weeks.
  • Each day, 10,600 workers are disabled by injuries on the job.
  • Job-related injuries cost the U.S. economy more than $130 billion in the year 2000.
What can you do to help ensure that conditions at your company don't contribute to these appalling statistics? Think "safety first" — and prove your commitment by developing and actively supporting an accident prevention plan.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Why safety should be a core value at your company.
  • Where to find safety regulations you need to follow.
  • Tips for setting up an accident prevention plan.

SOLUTION [top]

Workplace injuries cost employers billions in insurance claims, lost productivity, government fines, and lawsuits every year. Poor workplace-safety practices also provide labor unions a reason for being.

Minimizing the risk of accidents begins with your own and your management team's absolute commitment to safety as a core value of the company. This means you do more than just set safety as a priority. Rather, you aim for perfection — that is, no job-related accidents leading to injury or death.

One of the most effective steps you can take to assure safety-regulation compliance and real workplace safety is to assign an operations manager responsibility for a safety program and give that manager authority and resources to make needed improvements.

Here are guidelines that will help you and your safety manager focus on accident prevention as a core value:

  1. Identify workplace hazards specific to your company — such as repetitive stress injuries to keyboard users or back strains among warehouse staff — and assess their potential effects on employee safety and health. Act immediately to eliminate the hazard when it's obvious that "an accident's just waiting to happen."

  2. Prepare for regulatory compliance. Educate yourself about safety and health regulations established for your industry by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other federal agencies, and state safety and health agencies. To be in compliance, you must be aware of all relevant regulations, have a process in place to meet those regulations, and conduct periodic safety inspections. You can download a wide range of self-inspection checklists from the OSHA Web site, and customize them for your own operation. The Quick-Read "Preventing Ergonomic Problems" provides guidelines for preventing repetitive stress disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

  3. Set and post safety standards reflecting regulatory requirements that apply to your industry, plus voluntary guidelines and best business practices.

  4. Establish an employee-run safety committee. Employees are the most qualified to know about what hazards put them at risk for accidents on the job. Involve them in identifying those hazards, planning and implementing solutions, and developing and upholding safe work practices and rules. Check with your insurance carrier: such accident-prevention programs may save on your policy premiums.

  5. Provide training. New and veteran employees need to be educated about company safety policies and procedures, and trained in accident-prevention techniques.

  6. Post safety guidelines in public areas, for example, fire escape routes, and warnings about hazardous materials employees may encounter.

  7. Offer safety awards and other incentives to encourage cooperation. One San Francisco building contractor found that people began to skip weekly safety-training sessions after the initial enthusiasm for the company's "Safety First" campaign wore off. So he switched the 20-minute sessions to payday. The payoff: All employees attended to hear their peers give presentations on safety topics — after which they could pick up their paychecks.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

Intervening when you see unsafe actions on the job is the key to accident prevention, says Pat Trudeau, safety and environmental specialist at Nypro Inc., a manufacturer of plastic injection molding based in Clinton, Massachusetts.

The core of Nypro's safety plan is STOP — Safety Training Observation Program — developed by E.I. DuPont. "We get our people to buy into the program by training them to observe unsafe actions and take corrective action on the spot," Trudeau says. "You see a co-worker climbing onto an injection-molding machine without using a ladder, for instance. You go right over and say, 'Do you know what could happen if you fall while climbing on that machine without a ladder?' The individual should respond with, "I understand," and get down and go for a ladder."

Corrective action, Trudeau emphasizes, "must be taken as the incident happens. Otherwise that safety problem is less likely to be resolved. The STOP program gives us a tool to rectify unsafe acts and conditions immediately, and prevent their reoccurrence."

Any individual who observes and takes action on an unsafe practice also fills out a STOP card detailing the incident, including the specific safety problem and what was done to resolve it: "I saw John Doe climbing onto an injection-molding machine without using a ladder; I spoke to him, and he got down to get a ladder and used it."

A STOP card filled out on the production floor goes through channels to supervisor, manager, director of operations, general manager, and then to Trudeau. "If the reporting employee is unable to take corrective action at the time of the incident, that's noted on the card, and I'll check on it," she says. "Sometimes an employee will find an unsafe condition that he or she can't fix. For example, a floorboard has lifted up, but the individual doesn't have a hammer and nails handy. He or she places a safety cone nearby and notes this on the STOP card. A manager or supervisor will then follow up, filling out a facilities work order to have the problem corrected."

The STOP program is "a friendly approach to safety," Trudeau says. "It's not intended to be disciplinary. You don't yell at people, 'Hey, get off that machine!'" Also, "there's no 'fright factor' in reporting safety problems, as in, 'I can't say anything to my supervisor about his unsafe actions because I'll get fired.'" Everyone at Nypro is expected to use this safety tool. "Anyone can walk up to another person engaged in an unsafe activity — frontline employee, supervisor, manager, even our company president — and go through the routine," says Trudeau. All are on an equal footing when it comes to accident prevention.

DO IT [top]

  1. Evaluate the safety of existing facilities, processes, and equipment. Make necessary modifications to bring them up to safety standards. Consider asking an OSHA-approved safety consultant to help you design a compliance plan. If cost is a factor, set priorities so you can begin making changes where accidents are most likely to occur.

  2. Take safety issues into account when designing, building, or introducing new facilities, processes, and equipment. This will be more cost-efficient than modifying for safety compliance after injuries occur.

  3. Prepare for the worst. Establish disaster recovery procedures.

  4. Take employee complaints seriously. Listen — and take appropriate action — when they bring potential hazards to your attention.

  5. Keep good records. Track data on all your safety and health activities, including inspections, occupational health assessments, and injury investigations. Analysis of this information will help you identify hazards as well as patterns that can help predict future safety problems.

  6. Be an accident-prevention leader. Show that safety is a core value at your company by taking the same accident-prevention measures you expect all employees to follow. Encourage all managers to assign safety-related objectives and reward their accomplishment. Don't just focus on operations safety. Office environments need safety plans — fire escape routes, clear stairways, electrical outlet safety, emergency or natural disaster plans, and so on.

  7. Reinforce safe actions. Acknowledge employees for safe performance. At Nypro Inc., (see Real-Life Example), the STOP cards used to identify unsafe practices also feature space for employees to record "Safe acts observed" and "Action taken to encourage continued safe performance." The observer would likely verbally commend the individual using a safe practice.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Basics of Safety and Health (National Safety Council, 2001). A handbook for the safety coordinator.

Safety and Health Handbook by David L. Goetsch (Prentice Hall, 2000). This textbook is more for the safety specialist than the CEO.


Internet Sites

Associations

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Regulatory guidelines and data on past occupational safety and health inspections.

National Safety Council
The Nonprofit NSC serves as a resource for safety, health, and environmental issues. The NSC Web site features FAQs and an online library of information on workplace-safety topics.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
This division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides workplace-safety guidance. The Web site offers guides suitable for distribution to employees. Note too the "Health Hazard Evaluations" option listed on the home page.

Journal articles

"Accidents Happen…but employees can help prevent them," by Jacquelyn Lynn. Entrepreneur (April 1998): 41.


Article Contributors

Writer: Kathleen Conroy

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