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Make your workplace safe

Dr Vijay Sangam, 13:05, 13 Oct 2010

Significant staff members are deployed in supply chain area and the respective managers are responsible for Occupational safety and health related issues.  According to SAFEWORK Australia there were 131,110 workers compensations claims received during the financial year 2007-08.  Out of which 68% were from male workers and rest from female workers.  According to European Agency for Safety and Health at work, 5,720 people die in the European Union as a consequence of work-related accidents. Besides that, the International Labour Organisation estimates that an additional 159,500 workers in the EU die every year from occupational diseases. Taking both figures into consideration, it is estimated that every three-and-a-half minutes somebody in the EU dies from work-related causes.  The incidents are expected to be high in manufacturing, transportation and storage area.  Based on the compensation claims in Australia, 19% claims were received from manufacturing area and further 8% from transportation and storage area during 2007-08.  If we look at the frequency rate (is the number of cases expressed as a rate per million hours worked by employees) the manufacturing and transportation and storage recorded 12.4.

We are seeing steady improvements in the last five years, manufacturing area recorded 13% and Transportation and Storage industries have reported 22% improvement.  However, lot to be achieved in order to make workplace safe.  Someone said prevention is better than cure.  How appropriate in the present context.

Risk assessment is the first step to make your organization a safe place to work.  Managers should take whatever steps necessary to ensure the safety and health of employees. To prevent accidents, you should establish a health and safety management system that incorporates risk assessment, risk management and monitoring procedures. The risk assessment can be undertaken in five steps.

Step 1: Identify Hazards

Looking for those things at work that have the potential to cause harm, and identifying workers who may be exposed to the hazards.  Particularly in the warehouse area where fork lifts are moving at brisk pace carrying huge loads and also during loading and unloading areas.

Step 2: Evaluate and prioritize the risk

Based on the past incidents establish a list of existing risks, their severity and their probability.  Once this information is established prioritize the risks based on frequency and severity.  The objective of this exercise is to find ways to avoid the risks in future.  The risk need not be due to an accident, it could be due to health hazard also.

Step 3: Develop strategy for prevention

Understand the operational processes to identify areas of improvement and also identify appropriate measure to control and ultimately eliminate the risks.  Smoking is injurious to health, we all know.  However, we find designated space allocated in work place for smoking.  Instead of grouping all smokers in a small place where smoke inhalation would be much more than normal smoking, employees should be encouraged to adopt healthy life style by avoiding smoking.

Step 4: Taking action

Develop action plan for each risk and develop a prevention plan.  It is very much necessary to understand the roles of each player in this area. By specifying who does what and when, we are developing a collaborative approach involving everyone in the plan.  It is not plan that is important but it is the commitment to implement the plan is vital.  One more area that needs attention is education.  Continuously educate all concerned about the importance of safety at work place.  The best example is the safety drill conducted by the airhostesses prior to take-off.

Step 5: Measure and Monitor

“What You Measure Is What You Get”, the safety performance should be reviewed regularly in order to achieve sustainable and competitive advantage through continuous improvements.  This review should critically view “near miss” in order to avoid an accident in future.  Continuous reviews lead towards risk prevention.

What causes accidents and develops into a risk in Supply Chain Area?

The first and foremost factor that could lead to an incident is uneducated/untrained workforce and followed by Equipment, Workplace, Footwear, Material Handling, Transportation, Working at a height, Handling hazardous material, and last but not least is psychosocial factors.  Lack of information, instruction, training, supervision and education could lead to haphazard work flows and which could lead to accidents.

As we all know, the material handling equipment handlers in warehouse race against the time in order to keep their productivity levels high.  This is a welcome sign but not at the risk of safety.  The safety of the equipment handler and other staff working in the warehouse is paramount.  Poor housekeeping and poor visibility inside the warehouse could lead to accidents.  Generally people tend to ignore cleanliness in warehouses and that is not a good practice in making workplace a safe.  One should ensure that warehouse is illuminated well preferably by natural light if not by electricity. Workers and the warehouse visitors need suitable footwear. The footwear should take into account the type of job, floor surface, typical floor conditions and the slip-resistant properties of the soles. Movement of vehicles in the busy yard is always dangerous place unless managed well.  People being struck or run over by moving vehicles, falling from vehicles, being struck by objects falling from vehicles or vehicles overturning are some of the common incidents noticed in the yard.  In some of the modern warehouses people work at great heights and there is the risk of objects being dropped on people working below or people could fall from the height and injure themselves.  Some of the material handled in the warehouse could be dangerous in nature, it could be fatal when inhaled.

The last and the very important factor that could cause accidents in work place is psychosocial factor (“Psychosocial refers to one’s psychological development in and interaction with a social environment”), in simple stress.  The work related stress could have long lasting impact on the health and safety of the employee.  The supervisor should play a vital role by interacting with his/her staff on a regular basis in an informal atmosphere to address any issues that are could lead to work related stress.  Sometimes demanding work conditions also could lead to a risk.

Risk Prevention Guidelines:

  • Establish clarity with regard to procedures and responsibilities for health and safety and everyone know their own and others’ responsibilities?
  • If the manager is not competent on these issues, should not hesitate to seek outside help.  Avoiding the issue will not solve the problem, it would magnify the impact.
  • Identify and prioritize the risks and develop a strategy and plan to minimize and eventually eliminate.
  • Like people equipment will also fall sick and could cause the accidents.  Make sure that the equipment is regularly serviced.  This would also help to increase the life span of the equipment.
  • Organize periodical health check-ups, this is a preventive measure.
  • Continuous training is the key element.  The training need not be a class room based.  An informal discussions, charts, posters and incentives could help.
  • Supervisors should interact regularly with their staff and educate the ever changing regulations, safety procedures, and also discuss organizational changes in an informal way.
  • Develop the procedure to capture an incident.  As mentioned earlier, past records act as guide to avoid future incidents.
  • Incidents should be investigated promptly and outcomes should be recorded.
  • Celebrate the success and review the failure.
  • Workplace inspections play a big role in avoiding incidents.
  • Periodically review the Health and Safety policies and procedures and update the same in order to handle any eventuality.

Safety doesn’t happen by accident, at the end of the day, the responsibility to keep the work place safe rests with employer and employee both.  A collaborative approach would always produce the best possible results.  It is human tendency to hide the incident due to fear of defeat.  Unless we understand the incident and what caused the incident, we cannot avoid it in future.  “Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent”.  An unknown author said, “Your safety gears are between your ears”, it is true.  A vigilant and well trained workforce ensures safe work place and finally safety isn’t   just a slogan, the reality is that it is the way of life.

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