A brief guide to employee safety training in the working environment.
One of the most misunderstood responsibilities in the modern workplace is that of training the workforce in safety procedures and techniques. Too many employers choose to focus on one single issue, such as drunk driving, or CPR, or worse bring in a documentary meant to terrify the employees into being safe for another year.
The problems with all these approaches is that they ignore that the front line of safety has to be an involved employee acting to minimize risk, and trained in responding to all probable risks. While drunk driving can be an issue for sick days and lost workdays, unless one is running a trucking or delivery business, it is unlikely that this is a concern for the employees during working hours. Likewise, while CPR is a useful skill, it doesn’t address the machine operator whose partner just got his hand caught in the gears.
There are some safety factors that are going to be common to all jobs. Cleanliness is one: debris on the floor is a navigation hazard, fire hazard, and machinery hazard. Using the proper safety equipment is another: If your job provides you with eye protection and gloves, they think you’ll need them, so use them. Basic first aid is another common topic that should be covered. Not so much CPR, but rather going over where the first aid kits are in the facility, and how to use them. This is not to say that the employer shouldn’t work to make sure several people at each job site are CPR qualified, but for the most part, giving the training to everyone is not the most effective use of time for general employee safety training.
The final common safety factor is fire. Whatever the specifics of the workplace may be fire can break out anywhere. Because of that, it is imperative that everyone get annual training on how to evacuate the building; what the proper procedures for a fire are; how to recognize and use the available fire fighting equipment; and how and when to fight a fire themselves.
One excellent way to focus thinking about the specific hazards that employees face is to ask them to list what dangers they see in the workplace. Not only will this get the employees thinking in terms of risks and minimizing them, it also allows for feedback to the employer about any currently unsafe conditions that had not made it through regular channels.
Other specific hazards common to some, but not all, industrial settings include electricity. Workers should know the risk associated with electrical power, and what the equation for fatal current/voltage is under the worst case scenario: 30 volts will produce 0.1 amps of current in a body that is sick and dehydrated so that it has a resistance of 300 ohms. If that 0.1 amp crosses the SA or pacemaker node of the heart, it is enough to kill. Thus most any shock in an industrial setting can prove fatal, under the right conditions. If an employee has been shocked he or she must know that reporting for medical monitoring is mandatory, no matter how they feel. It is possible to feel no significant pain from an electrical shock that has upset the body enough to cause death later. The liver is one such organ which has been known to be shut down in response to electrical shock without giving any palpable sign to the victim.
Other risks are repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel for typists, or hearing loss for people working around machinery. In both cases proper use of safety equipment can reduce the risk of injury. Make sure that employees know what the risk appropriate to their work environment may be, and what precautions to take.
Finally, it is vital to emphasize that the best way for an employee to remain safe is to always be on the lookout for hazards. The best, most effective safety equipment available is the brain – make sure your employees use that every day!