Planning for a Safe 2013

While safety professionals are always continuously evaluating trends and planning for continuous improvement, the start of a new year presents opportunities for a formal review of the issues to keep in mind for 2013:

First, in terms of workplace dangers as well as enforcement priorities, fall protection, hazard communication and scaffolding safety were the three most-commonly cited violations. Many employers in general industry may not have scaffolding or fall protection considerations, but review your job descriptions and safety analyses, particularly for maintenance staff that may be working in elevated areas. Hazard communication is a neglected safety item for many employers, and just because your facility doesn’t use or manufacture large amounts of chemicals doesn’t mean hazard communication isn’t a concern. Research your legal responsibilities for making material safety data sheets (MSDS) available and providing hazard communication training.

Second, related to hazard communication, the US is currently in transition to something called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, more commonly and conveniently referred to as “GHS.” For most employers who are end-users, rather than manufactures of chemicals, the primary change will be a new format for MSDS, now called “SDS” (safety data sheets). While this brings some changes to the format of the sheets, the good news is that they will now be a standardized format across manufactures. The new GHS system also introduces some new warning labels for chemicals that employees should become familiar with.

Third, there is a growing interest within the health and safety community on evaluating safety programs to measure their effectiveness. Since resources are always limited, determining which programs best reduce injuries and illnesses is key to running an efficient and effective program. This is not an easy project, even OSHA is struggling to develop effective metrics to evaluate their own enforcement and education programs. A good general objective for 2013 is to begin more carefully tracking not only reportable injuries, but near misses and all potentially unsafe conditions. Start gathering feedback from employees, asking how they perceive the effectiveness of various safety measures and training programs. While this information is more subjective, it can often provide valuable insights into what’s working and what isn’t.

Fourth, wellness programs are an increasingly important topic as safety professionals move to create more proactive programs that make safety a core value within the company, rather than responding to specific incidents after they happen, or taking a piecemeal approach to safety issues. Helping employees build stronger, healthier bodies can not only decrease injuries and worker’s compensation claims, but can significantly improve employee morale.

The upcoming year will bring some significant changes to some industries, and relatively few to others. Regardless of what the “hot topic” issues are for your facility, make 2013 the year to expand your focus to the big picture of building a proactive safety culture, and bringing all your programs into a comprehensive system that reduces injuries, improves efficiency and keeps your company running smoothly.