With supporting safe work environments being our mission, it helps to start with some statistics to help establish how we can best succeed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were approximately 2.9 million nonfatal work-place injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2016. That translates to a rate of 2.9 cases per 100 full time equivalent workers.
The industry with the highest number of reported injuries remains manufacturing where nearly 20% of all days away from work cases, DAFW, were described as falls, slips or trips.
It always surprises me to see falls, slips and trips as the single largest category of DAFW. I picture some dangerous machine or other ominous physical third party playing the lead role in injuries, not something of my own doing without any help required.
As I put these thoughts into writing, it sounds a little harsh. Aren’t there physical hazards in play to allow me to fall, slip or trip? Well it depends on how you look at it which is the segue to my point.
The First Rule of Safety – Know Your Job
Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, Sec 5(b), we are instructed to “comply with occupational safety and health standards” and all OSHA regulations that apply to our “own actions and conduct.”
Employers are responsible for providing a workplace “free from recognized hazards” under OSHA rules; but, individuals must own their actions and conduct at all times. So let’s consider the importance of Knowing Your Job in preventing workplace hazards.
Knowing Your Job includes a broad array of factors including but not limited to
- • Materials and Equipment
- • Procedures
- • Possible Hazards
- • Unexpected Hazards
Being an expert in our own safety demands that we put significant energy into each of these categories to assure we work safe to the extent that we are able. Survey each bullet category from the perspective of “Knowing Your Job.”
Materials and Equipment
Common examples under Materials and Equipment include MSDS and the handling of chemicals or proper operation of machinery. An employer can provide excellent MSDS tools and solid training on proper mechanical operation, but we must commit ourselves to study, understand and apply the available information and training.
We need to accept our responsibility as professionals to seek out and know the materials in our work environment and how to safely operate / maintain our equipment.
It is critical to learn from the experience of those who’ve gone before us. Procedures are the product of that experience put into a communication for our benefit which includes our safety. If we are not familiar with proper procedures or we disregard the procedure for the sake of time or other priority, we are accepting great risk and increasing the likelihood of unsafe conditions and injury.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse” and neither is ignorance of proper procedures. Find them, read them and ask questions where you are unclear.
Some hazards are predictable. Pinch points, electrocution, inhalation, fire, confined space, slip, fall, tripping. I put the last three last on purpose to show how the data reflects we are prioritizing slip, fall and trip hazards.
Most manufacturing environment procedures require inspection of work areas prior to starting work. Recall that under the OSHA General Duty Clause we are responsible for our own actions and conduct. What are we seeing in our pre-work inspections where slip, trip and fall are concerned?
Accidents happen but preventable accidents must be prevented and slip, trip and fall incidents can often be prevented.
We need to raise awareness regarding the frequency of slip, trip, fall events and the injuries they cause. If you’re a manager, lead by implementing slip, trip, fall hazards recognition and mitigation. Remove those hazards where possible and teach skills to minimize the risk where you have minimized the presence of the hazard. As employees we need to look for slip, trip, fall hazards before we start work. We can’t fall into complacency with the greatest cause of days away from work.
Potential dangers that arise on the job, often the result of changing conditions, can cause unsafe conditions. The catch all description is “anything that doesn’t seem right.” We need to be alert and sensitive to things that don’t seem right and take action to confirm, and if necessary, correct. Many slip, trip, fall hazards are the result of unexpected hazards. A liquid spill, tools on the ground, loose cords, all can result in a slip or trip.
Be vigilant with work area inspections. Hold yourself accountable for housekeeping and don’t be afraid to hold other accountable. Think about your technique when climbing or descending and avoid rushing when carrying things.
Know Your Job – Preventing Workplace Hazards
Knowing your job includes knowing the hazards at all times. To the extent that it depends on you, know the risks and be pro-active in mitigating those risks. Your diligence and commitment are your greatest tools.