My dad was an operations manager for 35 years. I remember missed tennis matches, dinners with an empty chair at the head of the table, and him falling asleep in his recliner while still wearing his boots. When I started working in Environmental Health & Safety software, I sat down with my dad and showed him some of the tools we provide to help keep workers safe. He was astounded. As a veteran of the industry, I asked him to reflect on his experience. So Sphera provides an inside look at safety on the workplace floor with guest blogger Duncan Eric Scrimpshire.
—Erika Scrimpshire, Product Marketing Manager, Sphera
As an EHS professional with over 35 years of experience in the industry, I’ve seen a lot—a lot of incidents, a lot of change and a lot of paperwork. I’ve filled out thousands of reports, thumbed through hundreds of Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and sweated as I took a representative from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration through my facility.
All that to say … I understand.
I understand how overwhelming the job can seem. I understand the anxiety of inventories and the panic when you receive word of an accident involving your team. I also understand how essential your job is to drive Operational Excellence in your corporation. Reflecting on my experience, I’d like to offer five tips that I learned along the way that help make this impossible job a little more … possible.
1. Know What You Have.
Have an annual reminder to conduct a full physical inventory. Inventories can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but they are essential to establishing a safe working environment. Employers must know what is on-site to know how to maintain compliance with reporting requirements, educate employees and provide adequate personal protective equipment/training in facilities. Engaging inventory services professionals helps alleviate the burden and provides a solid foundation for safety and compliance in your facility.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings.
Facilities can span acres, and information about the presence of chemicals and potential hazards is necessary to mitigate risk in the workplace. For instance, it’s not enough to know that asbestos is on-site. You need to know where it is and what other chemicals or hazards are nearby. Using an online system, you can assign materials to a chemical area and take a snapshot of that area, arming yourself with the information needed to evaluate the area for any risk involved with chemicals. In addition, you need an effective chemical approval process. That’s how you can monitor what comes into each chemical area so you’re aware of what your workers are exposed to and how to keep them safe.
3. Use the Right Tools and PPE.
Enforcing the use of proper PPE is not only vital for employee safety, but also protects the surrounding environment. Always make the proper handling tools and PPE available and designate them to associated areas (first aid and shower stations should also be readily available). Also, don’t forget to retrain employees on the use of PPE. For me, at times, workers felt silly or “too cool for school” when instructed to wear PPE, but this was one point on which I never budged. After holding classes on PPE and protocol, employees spotted misusing or not using PPE were instructed to attend another PPE class before returning to their task. If you can, put PPE on labels and posters in each area.
4. Check the SDS Before Handling or Disposing Chemicals.
SDS are provided to help workers know how to reduce risk and maintain a safe environment. Use them. Workers have a right to know about chemical hazards, and employers must provide unlimited access to SDS documents in their facilities. When a facility has several binders of SDS documents, accessing one piece of information on the right document during an emergency situation is not easily accomplished—and can delay effective first aid or adequate medical care. We didn’t have a digital system, but my daughter (who works for Sphera) showed me Communicator recently. (I never thought I’d see that kind of technology during my career!) For today’s workers, it’s great for providing quick access to SDSs when they are needed most.
5. Don’t Take Chances With Procedures.
Stay up to date; there are no shortcuts in this game. In the modern business trends of mergers and acquisitions, products (and the substances that make up products) change often. As products change, so do the hazards and precautions associated with them. Keeping track of new chemical data and SDS documents is an insurmountable challenge, especially when SDS management is only part of your daily responsibilities. This is a great time-suck and, to be honest, it doesn’t happen often in the real world. Automate updates to safety information as much as possible and as you receive new data, make sure that safety procedures are updated and workers are trained on the new information.
As an EHS professional, you are charged with protecting your company’s greatest asset—its people. It is perhaps one of the greatest responsibilities to be entrusted with the safety and protection of workers, and it’s not an easy one. But I encourage you to brave the shifting waters and enlist a partner like Sphera. They are here to help you provide a safe and compliant workplace for you and your employees.