Q&A with Don Bullard: Safety audit protects employees, employers
What is a safety audit?
A safety audit is a general term. In short, it means a review of the physical plant/workplace to assess potential risks for injury and property damage. A safety audit assesses procedures and equipment including a determination of whether proper ergonomics and safety techniques are being utilized. The goal is to determine whether there are best practices that can be utilized to reduce identified risks.
What are the advantages of a safety audit?
In addition to the primary function of protecting personnel from harm and equipment from damage, a safety audit has the extended benefit of consistent production via reduced lost time, lower insurance premiums because of fewer claims for property damage and fewer workers’ compensation injuries. It also offers protection against OSHA violations and the fines that can accompany those violations.
Are there ways to determine areas that need to be addressed other than by visual inspection?
Our safety audit procedures begin with research. Prior to actually conducting a tour of the facility during the work day, we request access to information regarding prior incidents and types of injuries. The information generally will lead to specific changes to address those issues.
For instance, if a particular area has a higher rate of shoulder injuries, we want to determine the reason why that might be. Oftentimes it is a function of changing a process to ensure safe operation of equipment or completion of a task. Depending on the facility, we may also recommend noise testing to ensure the levels do not exceed OSHA standards.
What are some of the more common issues you see and how are they addressed?
The most common areas for improvement in a manufacturing/production setting fall into four categories.
Initially, failure to use easily available ergonomic equipment is very common. Ergonomic keyboards set at the correct height and for proper hand placement should be a given but are often ignored. The proper use can easily prevent hand issues. Ergonomic mats should be utilized for positions where standing is required.
Another issue we encounter frequently occurs when employees determine to bypass a safety rule in order to increase production. This can be exhibited, as examples, in the form of failure to use lifts for working at the proper height or bypassing safety buttons in the operation of a machine.
Too often, we notice something as simple as keeping designated walking and operating areas free of debris and equipment to prevent trip and fall injuries. Finally, the failure to require the use of proper safety equipment such as safety glasses, fall protection, hearing protection and any other personal protection equipment is all too common.
As you might imagine, each situation has its own challenges and the examples are too numerous to illustrate here.
Can an employer conduct their own safety audit?
They can and they should. Some problems and fixes are obvious, but others require more review, knowledge and experience.
An important starting point in developing a safe working environment is to require all employees to follow the safety rules. As an employer, consider establishing a policy for safety rules and require everyone to follow them, even to the point of reprimands and termination.
Schedule regular safety meetings to emphasize the rules and the importance of compliance. This is primarily for the protection of the employee, but is also important for the protection and well-being of your company.
Paula Burkes, Business writer