The following interview appeared in the August-September edition of Oregon OSHA's Health and Safety Resource. This newsletter covers a variety of health and safety training topics and is available by email subscription or can be downloaded from Oregon OSHA's website.
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When it comes to safety in high-hazard environments, what’s your sense of how much progress has been made?
Let’s start with our definition of a ‘high-hazard’ environment. We believe that it’s one in which the work hazards cannot be eliminated, so workers must rely on administrative controls and personal protective equipment to stay safe. This means that you are on the lower levels of the hierarchy of controls, which requires higher levels of worker participation and training. It also means these systems can be defeated if the workers do not follow procedures.
So, from a technology standpoint, there has been a lot of progress, particularly in confined space, fall protection, and rescue equipment. It amazes me how many technical solutions there are today. Progress on the human front is tougher to measure since we don’t work with a cross-section of Oregon industries. Like all the other safety companies, we only get to work with organizations that “get it.” That is, they take safety and emergency planning seriously. It’s ironic that safety companies don’t get to train the people who could benefit the most from our expertise.
Among your clients, what are some of the more effective ways they are managing the challenges of high-hazard environments?
It varies depending on the type of industry, but one thing most of these organizations do is to practice risk-based safety. This means that everyone is trained to recognize hazards and has the authority to stop an unsafe job or correct an unsafe condition. In essence, they make everyone a competent person. Decisions are geared towards following best practices more so than merely following OSHA regulations which are only minimal. This strategy also recognizes and relies upon the expertise of affected workers.
As Ray Illingsworth, safety coordinator of Marvin Wood Products, mentioned in your last issue, they are the ones who are closest to the work and, therefore, they are in an excellent position to help ensure that safety measures 1) allow the work to be done in an efficient manner (which can also reduce exposure), and 2) that the safety measures do, in fact, eliminate or control the hazards encountered or created by the work activities. Another tactic, as Mr. Illingsworth also pointed out, is tracking near misses and sharing them with the workforce. This is effective because accidents are the result of a chain of events and people learn through stories. By knowing these stories, workers are better equipped to recognize and break the chain of events that can lead to tragedy. An example would be dropping a tool into a permit-required confined space and simply jumping in to retrieve it instead of following entry procedures. Not a smart move.
When it comes to your line of work, how do you measure success?
I’m not sure you can. You can never prove the existence of the accident that didn’t happen or the rescue that didn’t need to be made. I think all the safety training companies would agree that in our line of work, no news really is good news.