According the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, based in Hamilton, ON, there were 260,284 lost-time injuries in Canada in 2009. That number of people went to work in the morning but were injured at work to such an extent that they had to take time off work. These injuries must have caused tremendous suffering to the injured people, as well as cost our industries billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses associated with these accidents.
By definition, occupational health and safety is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational safety and health programs is to create and regulate a safe work environment.
Safe work environments can vary from place to place and from one worker to another. A safe work environment could be very specific, however it falls under the general definition of due diligence.
Due diligence in its simplest form means the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to another person. Related to industrial establishments, in practice, it consists of the following steps:
• Hazard and risk identification and assessment
• Elimination or control workplace hazards
• Verification of occupational health and safety (OHS) programs and safe work procedures
• Engaging managers and workers in OHS training
• Documenting OHS program compliance
• Total OHS management system auditing
• The commitment of senior management to worker safety.
The first step in this process is hazard identification and assessment. Hazards are typically categorized into one of six groups:
1. Safety (moving machinery, working at heights, slippery surfaces, mobile equipment, etc.).
2. Ergonomic (material handling, environment, work organization, etc.).
3. Chemical agents.
4. Biological agents.
5. Physical agents (noise, lighting, radiation, etc.).
6. Psychosocial (stress, violence, etc.).
Once the hazards have been identified, they need to be assessed using the hazard assessment tools prescribed by the safety standards. This task is best performed by qualified engineers and must include all steps of the process, such as, for example, loading and unloading, clearing of jams and maintenance of the equipment.
The hazard assessment would clarify the severity of each step and also provide a clear rating of the priorities needed to mitigate the risk. Once the risk is identified, it must be controlled or eliminated completely.
As far as machinery is concerned, it requires development of safety-engineered solutions. The best way is to engage a qualified multi-discipline engineering group capable of designing not only safety solutions but also solutions that enhance productivity at the same time.
If established by a qualified processional, safety and productivity are two sides of the same coin. A qualified professional will always consider the input of maintenance people because he or she realizes that the maintenance, engineering and production people are the most knowledgeable people as far as the operation of the existing machine is concerned.
The first two steps of the due diligence process are probably the most difficult ones to achieve, so we call them the ‘hard’ steps. The other steps are as important as the first two, but somewhat easier and less expensive to implement, so we call them the ‘soft steps.
We need to highlight the importance of senior management’s commitment to support safety. Many times, statements are made on company billboards and in annual reports that safety is the number-one priority, yet some of those companies remain famous for their poor accident and fatality records.
One company in particular stands out. Do you remember the Westray Mine, where 26 miners died in 1992 due to an explosion at their facility? The previous year, the mine won the highest safety award of the industry. The paperwork could be easily manipulated.
Because of such situations, the hard steps must be in place and documented. It is the responsibility of all of us, and in particular the maintenance and engineering managers, to communicate to the senior management of the company the importance of the hard steps. An understanding of the hard steps may require specialized knowledge that maintenance and engineering managers possess and that other senior managers may not.
Maintenance and engineering managers have the potential to raise health and safety awareness among both workers and senior managers, to affect improvement in arrangements for managing health and safety, to improve the practical implementation of these arrangements, and to contribute to improved health and safety performance, as well as productivity. Most importantly, they represent the means by which the workers’ voices can be heard and acted upon to benefit those who experience the risks of the production process and also the means by which the company’s bottom line is significantly improved.
Maintenance and engineering managers have a big role to play.
Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., of SAFE Engineering Inc., specializes in industrial health and safety concerns and PSR compliance. For more information, visit www.safeengineering.ca.