Identify your hazards...
Generally, hazards may be identified using the tools we were born with, our five senses:
The so-called 'sixth sense' or 'intuition' should never be disregarded here, either. I once trained a chap ('Harry') who worked in the bomb repair and maintenance section of a military air-force, and he emphasised the efficacy of intuition in an incident he had experienced earlier that year.
It appeared a marker bomb of the sort used in air rescue operations was on a conveyer belt awaiting checking, when Hatty's offsider, called out:
"Hey, Harry, I think there's something wrong wi..." when the offsider suddenly grabbed the bomb and threw it out of the room. It exploded mid-air, some several metres away, and covered everything in its proximity with fluorescent orange dye. (The only nasty outcome was that the offsider had to attend a wedding the following week-end still covered in dye!)
Harry was emphatic that, to this day, his mate and he regarded this as sixth-sense at its best...
Of course, to the rationalist, 'intuition' could well be because of a person's heightened awareness and skill of year's of experience around their profession. Similar, say, to you or I driving our own car day in, day out, and becoming used to its peculiarities. When something changes in sound or steering, no matter how subtle, we alone become aware of it. To others, it may appear as 'intuition'... and so on...
The point is: if something 'feels' not-quite-right or unsafe, follow-up that 'feeling' with a decent investigation... It just might save a life...
Obviously, there are many other tools available for our use in identifying hazards. Tools that have developed over the years to assist us be 'proactive' in our approach to health and safety. In this, we use our other gift, the gift of Thought. From 'thought' we prepare reports, such as injury and incident reoprts, maintenance reports, Material Safety Data Sheets, test reports, and so forth.
Some ideas for assisting in identifying hazards are:
Observation (the senses mentioned above, along with enhancements such as various test devices), and the following -
Workplace OHS committee/representative
Use of Material Safety Data Sheets and other safety data
Analysis of statistics
Monitoring work productivity/quality
Monitoring of health and welfare
Injury management systems
Group discussions may have names such as 'tool box meetings', 'committee meetings', 'team meetings', etc. Whatever their name, the idea is to invite comment from one and all.
There is a tale of an elephant, a zebra, a rhinoceros and a giraffe are walking through the jungle. They come across a tree which bears the most delicious fruit imaginable. They climb on one another's shoulders, but are just 5cm too short to reach the fruit. A little mouse comes along, climbs to the top, and proceeds to pick the fruit for them all to share. In the same way, we might have 99% of what is needed to achieve a safety goal, and the quietest little 'squeaker' in our team contributes that 1% that completes our protection... So, make your meetings really valuable: ensure all persons have a chance to speak-up, and are encouraged to do so.
Environmental testing is usually carried out by a specialist, using specialist, calibrated equipment. For example, an occupational hygienist may be called on to perform a test on noise levels in a workshop. The decibel (dB) levels in the work environment will be measured in relation to the dB rating as well as the length of time the noise level is maintained. Factors such as length of time employees are exposed will be considered, and so on. Note that easily obtained and inexpensive, over-the-counter test devices from a local electronics shop should not be relied for final analysis of safe working levels. These sorts of devices may certainly be used by the lay-person as a general indicator, in much the same way a 16 point compass can give a general idea of direction, but we would use a prismatic device for fine calculations, in order to be accurate in our direction.
Complaints should never be viewed as a 'negative' in our health and safety planning. They are a valuable addition to our armoury in identifying hazards and - provided they are dealt with in an open and transparent manner - can greatly improve relations in both the industrial and publicity arenas, not to mention purely health and safety issues.
Complaints may arise from experiences of employees, management, auditors, unions,suppliers, delivery personnel, consumers, and neighbouring firms and residents.
Avenues for making complaints for should be obvious and open to review. They may range from specific complaints departments to suggestion boxes to questionnaires to feedback from industrial relations' grievance procedures.
Responses to complaints should include time-frames and personnel expected to report back to the complainee. (Inherent in this, of course, is the need to 'walk-the-talk': that is, we DO what we SAY we do...)
Regular safety inspections are usually the task of OHS Committees, OHS Representatives and OHS Officers. They can be carried out in conjunction with programmed maintenance schedules (eg when machinery might be shut-down for maintenance, or when machinery and/systems are being operated at full-power to observe any abnormal stress factors - either human or plant related). Regular inspections that do not require specialised knowledge should be made by personnel from departments other than the one being investigated. This allows for 'new eyes' to spot potential problems that may be too obvious for the regular employees in the inspection area - it is surprising what we overlook in our own work environment.
(I once had a wonderful opportunity to observe this little effect in my own home, when, one Christmas, I borrowed a video camera and let my 9 year-old stroll around and make her own video history of the home and its yard. What unfolded was a delightful record of 'her world'. Not the same as mine, as I might have assumed, but one that revealed a number of things in our own yard that I did not know existed, but which were part of her daily doings. Perspectives of size and space were changed, as one might expect, but a variety of garden accoutrements and creatures were also revealed to me... A great lesson!)
WORKPLACE OHS COMMITTEE/REPRESENTATIVE
Workplace OHS Committees and OHS Representatives are accorded various tasks and powers in the States of Australia. In NSW, the current regulation (Regulation 2001) declares a committee must be formed when, in a workplace of 20 or more employees, a majority of these employees votes in favour of a committee, or WorkCover (the NSW Government's statutory body empowered to enforce OHS legislation) directs the formation of such a committee.
A committee will usually comprise eight members, employee and employer representatives. All members of the committee must undergo the WorkCover OHS Consultation training - a four-day course covering issues such as legislation, risk and injury management, along with tips into establishing management OHS systems and problem solving.
Note the composition of the committee must be arranged in such a way that the employee representatives are not outnumbered by the employer appointees, and that the committee must be chaired by an employee elected by the employee representatives. This ensures the committee 'power' rests with the employees. However, since the duty of care rests firmly on the shoulders of the employer, it is still the employer prerogative to implement and enforce (or choose to NOT implement and NOT enforce) health and safety issues addressed by the committee. To add an operational 'check' to such an occurence, though,any employer deciding to disregard the advice of a committe leaves the firm open to major prosectuion if WorkCover is called in by a disgruntled committee.
Again in NSW, in any workplace, even with one employee, the presence of an OHS Representative may be requested. This representative is elected from the employee pool. Note there may be a number of representatives from various areas. There may also be combinations of committees and representatives - whatever is regarded as meeting the demands of consultation in OHS for the workplace.
As this heading implies, safety audits are usually carried out by external safety specialists. Just as with any other audit, they are supposed to be carried out without fear or favour. The object is to ensure safety systems are present and functional. The auditor may bring in other outside specialists to report on plant and systems, including fire and evacuation advisors.
Before a company books an external auditor, however, it is advisable to investigate the internal auditing systems. If they don't exist, then make that a priority. Trained internal staff become a valuable resource that can certainly be backed-up by the external OHS practitioner, but can never be replaced. There is also the issue of ownership. Where an external safety auditor is brought into an organisation, all levels of the business should be advised as to the need and expectations, including outcomes.
Accident investigation reveals flaws in the OHS system.
Modern forensics studies (armed with the 20/20 vision of hindsight!) reveal 97% of accidents are preventable. The prime aim of these studies is to prevent an incident happening again.
There are six very basic questions associated with an investigation: HOW, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, WHO and WHAT? The elements of PEOPLE, PARTS and POSITION will be covered within this framework, and any weaknesses identified.
The outcome of ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION, incident and accident reports indicate where and when OHS hazards have become uncontrolled in the workplace, and have led, or could have led, to injury, illness and/or damage. By reviewing these documents, we can identify the problems and remove the potential for harm from these hazards in the future.
Maintenance reports are a source of both quality and safety control. Programmed maintenance must include reporting procedures, since these allow for timely repairs and replacement to plant that otherwise may breakdown at a critical moment, causing interruptions to production schedules at best, and/death at worst. The forensics of many catastrophic events often reveal poor maintenance as a major contributor to the incident.
MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEETS (MSDS)
Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are informatin sheets prepared by the manufacturer or supplier of substances.
An MSDS provides information regarding composition of the substance, along with safe useage information, and emergency mechanisms should the substance become uncontrolled. By law, an MSDS must be made available by the employer to any employee has need of one.
OHS statistics are available for many types of industry. The various hazards usually associated with a specific industry are identified and analysed, and provide similar industries with a list of potential hazards they themselves may face, along with benchmarks against which they can measure their own OHS performance.
MONITORING WORK PRODUCTIVITY/QUALITY
OHS and quality go hand in hand. Since OHS legislation includes protection for end use of an organisation's products and services, there is a duty to ensure the goods and services do not have negative impact on the wider community. A business must take all reasonable steps to identify any negative impacts its goods or services have on the outer enviroment. Any negatives that are identified, must be capably and meaningfully addressed. Such things as disposal of waste and perhaps even the effects of the disposal of old and worn-out company product must be adequately and meaningfully addressed.
MONITORING HEALTH AND WELFARE
Monitoring trends in employee health can involve both physiological and psychological profiling and review. As such, industrial relations and human resource issues can arise over human rights, discrimination, privacy and confidentiality.
Health monitoring is essential where long-term exposure to hazards is likielyt occur. Review and comparisons assist OHS practioners to establish whether variations are occurring to an employee's health during such exposure, and therefore consider whether more effective hazard controls are needed.
Health monitoring must also take into account any pre-existing medical conditions. An example of this may be an employee who suffers occasional bouts of asthma, and an exposure to a product containing polyurethane may be sufficient to trigger a severe asthmatic reaction.
INJURY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Injury management covers such things as workers' compensation, injury management plans and return-to-work schemes. Personnel involved in such systems include insurance companies and their assessors, doctors and health specialists, rehabilitation coordinators and providers. The aim of such systems is to return the employee to pre-injury health.
Interestingly, injury management systems may introduce their own peculiar hazards, quite apart from those likely to impact on the already injured employee. An example would include problems associated with safe manouevring of a newly wheelchair-bound employee; whether such an employee is likely to cause a disfunction in an established evacuation procedure and so forth.
Then, there are the possibility of psychological issues arising in other staff from work-overload when attempts are made to cover for the injured employee.
Every workplace must be a safe workplace. Included in this statement is the need to ensure there is a system for emergency preparedness: steps to be taken should the workplace become unsafe.
Emergencies to consider will include the obvious such as fire, storms, and biological or chemical spills, but must also include emergencies likely to arise from use of the business' products or services, and the effects of such emergencies on the environment.
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