Safety at Workplace and its Management

Safety at Workplace and its Management

Safety generally means protection of a worker from physical hazards. When an accident happens, production slows down and the worker can get injured and the injury can make the worker incapable to work, at least for a while. Hence a safe workplace environment is an essential condition for the safety of the workers as well as for the safe operation of the plant.

The performance of the organization depends on the performance of its workers and the workers’ performance show vast improvement if the work is carried out by them in a workplace which is having a safe and healthy environment. Safe and healthy workplaces are always the most efficient. In fact the two go hand in hand. Also, a bad accident due to the lack of safety at the workplace can bring a serious damage to the organization.

Workplace environment mainly consists of three components. These components are (i) technological process which takes place at the workplace, (ii) operating equipment at the workplace, and (iii) housekeeping and cleanliness at the workplace. These three components need proper and adequate controls for ensuring safety at the workplace. A fourth component which is also important for the safety at the workplace is the availability of systems and procedures for keeping the working environment at the workplace safe and healthy.

Safety at workplace is very important both for the workers as well as the organizational management. It does not depend on the size of the organization.  A safe workplace environment is also a productive environment since it protects the process and the equipment from getting damaged and keeps the worker away from physical injuries. It thus has a positive influence on the performance of the workers, process, and equipments. This positive influence results into a positive impact on the workers’ morale and efficiency, shop productivity, and product quality.

There are three categories of controls which are to be applied for the workplace safety. In order of priority, these are (i) engineering controls, (ii) administrative controls, and (iii) personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. Engineering controls are applied to the layout and/or design of the equipments and the process so that the workplace becomes safer for the employees to work. Administrative controls are training of the workers, making and implementing of the system and the working procedures, carrying out of the hazard analysis as well as the risk analysis etc. and providing of adequate supervision and so on for the creation of an environment at the workplace so that the worker can work safely at the workplace. PPE controls are those controls which ensure that the workers use proper PPE when they work at the hazardous workplace.

Normally the objectives of the suppliers of the technological process as well as the suppliers of the equipments are to incorporate all the necessary safety features for the smooth functioning of the process and safe operation of the equipments. Still, hazards can be present at the workplace because of many reasons. Major amongst these reasons are (i) non installment of the recommended safety features to reduce capital cost, (ii) violation of the technological discipline of the process, (iii) violation of the maintenance procedures of the equipment, (iv) violation of the safety norms and procedures at the workplace, (v)  non maintenance of housekeeping norms at  the workplace, (vi) ignoring the use of personal protective equipments needed at the workplace, (vii) happening of an equipment failure during its operation, (viii) man made mistakes taking place during the plant operation (ix) absence of systems and procedures for safe working at the workplace, (x) absence of training of the workers in the safe practices, and (xi) overconfidence of a worker which results into the violations of safety norms at the workplace.

Workplace safety starts with a strong safety culture in the organization. Safety culture consists of the collection of value and beliefs which the management and the workers share in relation to risks at the workplace. Effective management leadership is critical since the cultural change is complex and difficult.

Workplace safety can be accomplished through culture, plans, and actions. But it can only reach its full potential if the effective management leadership and engagement of the workers are there in place. Management is required to embrace the safety and lead the efforts across the entire organization. Engagement of workers is critical for a safety culture to evolve. Even if the management is carrying out its role towards safety, a safety culture is not going to be sustainable without active participation of the workers of the organization. Engagement of workers towards safety culture starts building around the plans, but a static plan alone is not enough. For safety to be effective, actions are needed.

For the workplace safety to reach its full potential, it is essential that the engine of an ideal safety culture drives the system towards the goal of sustaining the maximum resistance towards its operational hazards. Effective safety leadership from management and the engagement of the workers are the fuel of the engine of the safety culture.

The following are some of the important factors which affect considerably the safety at workplace.

Awareness of hazards in the surroundings – The worker is to be aware of the hazards which are present in the workplace environment. Whether any hazard is present in the surrounding or not, a worker is always to be attentive, since a hazard can be created by a co-worker either due to lack of knowledge of safety procedures or due to ignoring them. A hazard can also be created due to a breakdown of equipment or due to the failure of a process. Once a worker is aware of the hazards present in the workplace environment then it helps him in taking the precautionary steps and thus reducing the risks at the workplace.

Alertness at the workplace – Alertness at the workplace aids to the workplace safety. Generally advance warning signals are available for an accident at the workplace. An alert worker normally captures these advance warning signals and takes corrective measures well in time for averting the accident. Hence, alertness on the behalf of the worker is a key to the safety at the workplace.

Worker with mental stress at the workplace – There can be several reasons causing mental stress in the worker. These include (i) fitness and health issues, (ii) issues relating with the rivalry with co-workers, (ii) lack of knowledge and training, (iv) presence of work pressures, (v) presence of conflicts with co-workers or superiors or even with organizational management, (vi) presence of some tension in the personal life of the worker, (vii) working for long hours because of non-reporting of his replacement in the next shift, and (viii) absence of appropriate rewards and recognition form the management etc. Whatever may be the reasons, a worker under mental stress is more prone to make mistakes while working at the workplace. Sometimes even a small mistake can cause a big hazard not only for him but also for the co-workers.  Hence, it is essential that a worker need to have a calm and peaceful mind at the workplace.

Correct use of working procedure – For safety in workplace, it is essential that the worker follows the procedure for doing the job correctly and with discipline. Taking of shortcuts affects greatly the workplace safety and is one of the biggest reasons behind the workplace accidents. It is also necessary that the correct tools and implements are used for avoiding the opportunity getting created for the workplace injury. For achieving this, the workers are to be thoroughly trained in the work procedures.

Access to emergency exits – Blocked condition of emergency exit is a big safety risk at the workplace. For ensuring quick escape during an emergency, it is necessary that at least two exits are provided for escape. Also, all the exits are to be kept clear of all obstructions.

Workplace housekeeping – Good housekeeping implies that a workplace is kept in an organized, uncluttered, and hazard-free condition. Housekeeping is crucial for the safety at the workplace. It is a necessary component of maintaining a safe work environment at the workplace and can help prevent injuries by eliminating potential workplace hazards which are present in a workplace with poor housekeeping. Workplace housekeeping also improves productivity and morale of the workforce.

Important features of workplace safety –The important features of workplace safety include (i) clean and dry working floors which are free of hazards, (ii) unnecessary tools, equipment, parts and materials are removed from the work area, (iii) all the items are stored safely and properly at their respective assigned places, (iv) exits, walkways and work areas are clear of obstructions, (v) trash and scraps are placed in the proper assigned places, (vi) hazardous materials are well marked and stored safely, (vii) flammable materials are kept away from heat sources and electrical equipment, and (vii) tools are cleaned and put at their places when not in use.

Workplace communication – Effective communication is an important aspect of the workplace safety. The communication can be between (i) a worker and his co-worker, (ii) a worker and his manager, and (iii) a worker and the technological process or operating equipment. Lack of proper and effective communication normally leads to unsafe working conditions at the workplace.

Management of safety at the workplace involves the four steps for control of the risks. These are (i) identification of the hazard, (ii) assessment of the risk, (iii) controlling the risk, and (iv) review of the control measures.

Identification of the hazards – It consists of finding out what can cause harm to the safety at the workplace. A hazard is anything which can be harmful to a worker. Some hazards are obvious because they are quite common to the industry, but others can by more difficult to identify. Workers of the area are best placed for the identification of the hazards. The identification of the potential hazards is also done by looking at every task at the workplace.

Assessment of the risk – Assessment of the risk at the workplace is the understanding of the nature of the harm which can be caused to a worker exposed to a hazard and the likelihood of its happening. The assessment of the risk can help in determining (i) how severe the risk is, (ii) whether any existing control measures are effective, (iii) the actions which need to be taken to control the risk, and (iv) how urgently the action needs to be taken. The assessment of a risk needs to be a simple process and not to be a complex one.

Controlling of the risk – It is the implementation of the effective control measures which are reasonably practicable at the workplace. The most efficient way of controlling the risk is to eliminate a hazard, so far as is reasonably practicable. If not reasonably practicable the next step is to minimize the risk as far as it is reasonably practicable. It is done (i) by substituting (wholly or partly) the hazard creating the risk with something which creates a lesser risk, (ii) by isolating the hazard from the worker exposed to it, and (iii) by implementing engineering controls. If a risk still remains, the remaining risk must be minimized , so far as is reasonably practicable, by implementing administrative controls such as a method of work, a process or a procedure designed to minimize risk, or the use of PPE. A combination of controls is to be used if a single control is not sufficient for the purpose.

Review of the control measures – Review of the control measures is essential to ensure that the control measures are working as planned. Controlling safety risks at the workplace is to be an ongoing process which needs to take into account changes which are taking place in the workplace. This is why procedures and risk controls measures are required to be reviewed regularly for ensuring that they remain effective.

Critical areas of safety at workplace

There are five critical areas (Fig 1) which are needed to be addressed for a comprehensive and effective safety approach at the workplace. These include plans and actions which help the engine of the safety culture to run without problems. These five critical areas are (i) existence of systems and procedures for safety at the workplace, (ii) assessment of hazards at the workplace, (iii) prevention of hazards, (iv) mitigation of hazards, and (v) training of workers in various aspects of safety.

Fig 1 Critical areas of safety at workplace

Existence of systems and procedures – Systems and procedures are the foundation of the workplace safety. They consist of organization wide, all-encompassing written documents for safety which provide guidelines to the workers towards the activities appropriate for the risk associated with the hazards present in the workplace. Its scope includes safety principles, policies, procedures, controls, awareness of hazards, and risk assessments, as well as job safety plans/job briefings, audits, incident investigations, and training, among others. The key objective of the systems and procedures is to provide overall safety guidance to the workers for safety at the workplace. For the systems and procedures to be effective, it is essential that they are properly communicated to, and understood by everyone in the organization.

Assessment of hazards at the workplace – There are always places in an operating plant where it is not possible to provide fool proof safety provisions. Hence, organization is required to develop safe work practices so that the workers are not exposed to hazards. For the development of safe work practices it is necessary to determine the risks, and assessment of the hazard is required to be carried out. When workers are required to work under hazardous conditions it is essential that they not only follow the safe work practices but take additional protective measures required, including the use of PPE. For the assessment of hazards present, it is necessary that instead of taking a cursory view, a detailed assessment is carried out after ensuring that all the relevant aspects have been considered. Also, these work practices are to be reviewed at regular intervals.

Prevention of hazards – Preventive measures lower the probability of a hazardous situation happening at the workplace. Proactive prevention lowers the safety risks. Examples of preventive measures include preventive steps taken to reduce the risk of equipment failure, job safety planning/job briefings, and safety audits, among others.

Mitigation of hazards – After the identification of the hazards and the risks determined, it is essential to effectively implement the hazards mitigation needs. For this, elimination, substitution, and engineering controls are the most effective methods. They are usually applied at the source and are less likely to be affected by human error, compared to awareness, administrative controls, and PPE. The potential for human error and its negative consequences on the workers, processes, the work environment, and equipment are required to be considered during the implementation of mitigation measures.

Training of the workers in various aspects of safety – Training workers who are exposed to hazards is critical for the safety at the workplace, particularly when the hazard/risk is not eliminated or reduced to a safe level. Workers need to be able to identify and understand the specific hazards associated with their respective job assignments. Only the qualified workers are to be permitted to those works which are exposed to hazards and which have not been put into a safe working condition. A worker is considered to be a qualified person if he is (i) qualified to perform the job safely, (ii) trained and knowledgeable about the equipment and work methods, (iii) is able to identify the associated hazards with the job, and (iv) is familiar with the proper use of the precautionary procedures, techniques, tools, and PPE required to avoid them. Unqualified workers are also needed to be familiar with any safety-related practices necessary for their workplace safety. Management is to take essential steps for determining, at least on an annual basis, that every worker is complying with the required safety-related work practices and for documenting that every worker has received the proper training.

Effective addressing of the above five areas, helps the safety at the workplace in the organizations. The comprehensive approach to safety at the workplace aids the operational excellence. Safety is a key enabler of efficient operational performance, and productivity. When safety at the workplace is neglected then it results into lower morale and productivity of the worker.

Another key factor to consider is the cost of the neglect of safety at the workplace. The direct costs are the workers’ compensation and medical expenses. They are easily recognizable and quantifiable. Indirect costs of safety at the workplace include training, accident investigation, implementation of corrective measures, and loss of productivity, equipment, and property. Indirect costs are less easily quantified but are financially impactful to the organization. The total cost of safety cannot be underestimated, and hence investing wisely in safety at workplace always brings positive results to the organization.

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