Athey is an Occupational Health and Safety Technologist with more than 15 years of practical field experience, including promoting safety in the workplace, in the following industries:
- Residential, Industrial and Commercial Construction
- O&G/Petrochemical/Process Safety Management/SEMS
- Transportation Fleet Safety
- Heavy Road Construction
- Insurance/ Risk Management
Athey is as OSHA-authorized instructor for General Industry and Construction Safety Outreach and a First Aid/CPR/AED instructor for Medic Aid. She consults on excavation/trenching, scaffold and fall protection and has been a presenter for risk management conferences. Here she answers questions about the importance of safety in the workplace.
What motivates employees?
I have been privileged to work in many industries. I have coached and observed employees from different cultures and backgrounds, gotten to know them, and become part of their work lives. I know about their families, that Fridays are the happiest happy days on a job site, and that change is hard to embrace for many of them.
Changing behavior, even when it is in the best interest of an employee, is often met with negativity. In my training and safety meetings, I use personal stories and statistics not to scare, but to bring awareness. Awareness is a big motivator on the job site. To find out what motivates your employees, you must talk to them. The answers are as unique as the individual.
Can you explain how ‘trend watching’ prevents accidents?
Trend watching is something that a safety professional develops over time by looking at historical data at the job site. My first objective at a new site is to find out what types of injuries are occurring and analyze data related to injuries, near misses and incidents not involving injury. I look at when the injuries are occurring (time of year to day of the week to time of day), type of job, supervisor, training received, and environmental, mechanical, and behavioral factors.
As I came to know employees and become familiar with the rhythm of the work site, I was able to anticipate when additional training was needed. For example, I knew that when school started each year we would have a rash of motor vehicle accidents. We began to implement driver safety training programs the beginning of August each year. This also prepared our commercial drivers for the start of the school year, which brings a rise in pedestrians, traffic, and awareness of school zones.
How important is management’s role in safety training?
Upper and middle management have to deliver the safety message, and they have to be on board with the delivery of this message. Middle management has more direct contact with employees, so it is important that they get the leadership skills they need to communicate safety objectives. I cannot stress enough how important communication is when relating to employees.
I would also like to emphasize the importance of the CEO communicating to all levels of the workforce. I have seen the faces of the workers when they get direct contact with the CEO or upper management at the safety meetings. There is a sense of excitement and importance the worker feels knowing the CEO understands and listens to employees’ concerns.
How important is documentation?
If an injury or accident occurs, you must be able to analyze all the data and ask the hard questions:
- Did training cover all the hazards?
- Were hazards effectively communicated?
- Was there a history (behavioral, mechanical or environmental)?
- Were there contributing factors (behavioral, mechanical or environmental)?
Documenting procedures, SOP’s, training received, near misses, injuries, loss of primary containment—I cannot stress to you how important this is. Read through accident reports, employee reports, injury logs, training records and other related material. Keep good notes. Consider all the contributing factors to an accident. You will usually find there is not just one factor.
How important is it to get workers interested in safety?
Your employees are your most important asset, and your bottom line is affected by their safety. If you’re looking for cost savings and to drive employee satisfaction, sell safety to your employees. Empower employees and make them part of the safety process. They are the ones doing the job, so see if they know a better way to stay in compliance and reduce injury rates. Giving them ownership in the program gets them interested and increases personal accountability.
Your employees are your walking, talking safety program. If they are on board, there is no way you can lose!