Safety Is Smart Business

Gary Auman

Gary Auman (www.dmfdayton.com) is a Partner in the law firm of Dunlevey, Mahan & Furry in Dayton, Ohio. He graduated with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Louisville in 1969, and a law degree from The Ohio State University in 1976. Since then, his practice has focused on defending employers in workers’ compensation and OSHA cases. In 2002, Mr. Auman was awarded the Distinguished Service to Safety Award by the National Safety Council. He has worked with OSHA in its development of safety and health standards, and he has defended OSHA cases in several federal appellate courts. Mr. Auman also represents 4 national and regional trade associations in the construction industry. He can be reached at gwa@dmfdayton.com.

June 1, 2011

The National Insulation Association (NIA) emphasizes the need to provide a safe workplace to its members, affiliates, and employers in any industry related to mechanical insulation. NIA’s Board of Directors and its Health and Safety Committee have not only instituted a safety award recognition program, but also hold two Safety Roundtables each year to provide members and guests an opportunity to discuss best practices in safety and to learn about new and proposed laws and regulations that affect all employers.

The most recent Safety Roundtable was held at NIA’s Annual Convention in Tucson, Arizona, in March 2011. Attendees shared their best practices to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and they also learned about current and planned actions by regulatory agencies to ensure employer compliance with safety laws and regulations.

Everyone’s Concern

Safety is everyone’s concern. All employers and employees in the mechanical insulation industry need to take safety seriously, whether they are contractors, manufacturers, or end users.

Safety has a definite impact on a company’s bottom line. An unsafe workplace, unsafe employees, or an unconcerned employer can have a direct connection to on-the-job injuries, together or individually. While it is difficult to calculate the exact cost of an on-the-job injury, it has been estimated that for every dollar an injured employee receives in workers’ compensation, his/her employer spends $11.00 in associated costs. These additional costs can include increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums, loss of production, loss of quality, OSHA fines, legal fees, and other cost factors.

Employers attending the Roundtable shared their ideas for best practices regarding safety audits, safety programs, and the methods they use to ensure compliance with their own safety rules and regulations. One of the safety award winners commented that it is important for a company to practice what it preaches. It is one thing to have a “good-looking” safety program; it is another thing to implement all aspects of that program. Frequently, the company’s president and other members of upper management must demonstrate a real commitment to the company’s safety program to get all employees to take the program seriously.

This safety award winner provides incentives to employees found to be in compliance with the company’s safety rules and regulations and also uses progressive discipline for employees who refuse to get the safety message. In doing this, the company feels that its employees know it is taking safety seriously. The incentives—as well as discipline—should be available to all employees, no matter their position.

Hazard Training

All safety award winners share the belief that training on safety is not a “one-time” activity. Daily, weekly, and quarterly reinforcement of safety education and hazard recognition is important for both fixed-site employers and construction contractors. One of the most important areas in which to educate employees is hazard recognition. Not only is this area aggressively enforced by OSHA, but it can also result in real injuries and costs to the employer if not emphasized. Not every safety hazard is covered by an OSHA safety standard, nor can every company anticipate every hazard to which its employees might be exposed. Employees must be trained on how to recognize and identify hazardous situations in the workplace and then be instructed how to address them.

All employers should perform daily safety job briefings. The immediate supervisor of each group of employees should take a few minutes before presenting the daily job briefing to consider the work to be performed that day and the hazards to which employees might be exposed. During the daily job briefing, employees should be acquainted with these potential hazards and advised of ways to deal with them. Of course, even a supervisor cannot anticipate everything that might happen, which is why the training on hazard recognition is so significant. These job briefings can be adapted for fixed-site employers as well as construction industry employers.

Weekly toolbox or tailgate safety meetings addressing particular safety topics are also extremely important. These weekly safety meetings give the employer an opportunity to reemphasize and reeducate employees in the safety knowledge they were provided when first hired by the company. Repetition of important topics is encouraged. The topics should reflect the work environment and hazard exposures of the employees receiving the training.

Initial Safety Training

One of the other areas discussed at the Safety Roundtable was the initial safety training received by employees when hired. This training should be very broad based and detailed. The initial safety training for new employees is not something that can be accomplished in 15 minutes or even an hour. The employer should take as much time as necessary to effectively educate all new employees in all safety areas that will impact the work they are being hired to perform. Employees should also be trained concerning safety for areas that may only indirectly touch upon the employee work area.

Safety training is not accomplished by giving the employee a copy of the company safety manual and telling him/her to take it home and read it that evening. The best safety training is hands-on. If that is not possible, in-person safety training is the next best thing. Computer-based safety training can be acceptable and effective if it is interactive and gives the employee the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers about the information being imparted.

Under no circumstances should employees be exposed to any safety hazard, whether physical or chemical, without first receiving adequate safety training about the hazard and how to avoid potential injuries from it.

Measuring Knowledge and Compliance

Following training, an employer must measure its impact on the employee, either by the trainer’s observation of the employee performing his/her tasks safely or by testing to measure the amount of knowledge accrued. If the employee does not have sufficient knowledge on the topic presented, the employee should be retrained before being exposed to that hazard. Supervisory employees at any level should be trained to observe employees for not only the quality and efficiency of their work, but also their safety compliance.

This is especially true for employees designated as competent persons on construction sites. The competent person designation is being emphasized by OSHA in construction site compliance inspections. This is not a designation to be taken lightly. Be sure the individuals you intend to designate as competent persons have been trained on their responsibilities and the authority they have to ensure a safe worksite.

Employees who do not comply with company safety rules should be subject to progressive discipline. Any employee who does not comply with a safety rule or safety guideline or who is observed not following company procedures regarding safety should be retrained on that area of their work, following the appropriate discipline.

Companies that effectively train their employees, monitor and audit their safety performance, and identify new safety hazards and take immediate corrective action will see a reduction in their on-the-job injury rates and a respective reduction of their workers’ compensation Experience Modification Rating (EMR). These employers also are much less likely to be significantly penalized by OSHA during a compliance inspection (see “OSHA Changes Are Coming—Or Here”).

Keeping Current on Safety

Several Safety Roundtable attendees praised the opportunity to share their ideas as well as receive information from other contractors and manufacturers. As some attendees indicated, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

To stay current on safety issues and solutions, consider sending someone to attend informational or educational sessions about safety at NIA’s Annual Convention or Committee Days. No matter how well educated you are in safety, NIA provides the opportunity to expand and increase your knowledge.