Eliminate the Danger

It seems some job site hazards are just impossible to anticipate. But then again, are they? Take the case of a Dallas convenience store cited recently by OSHA after an employee was killed during a robbery.

As covered in EHS Today and in local media, the robber poured a flammable liquid on the 76-year-old clerk and set her on fire. She was able to identify her attacker and he was arrested, but she died from her burns within a week.

While a dramatic and tragic example, the incident prompted an investigation of the company's four stores and a citation under the General Duties Clause of OSHA's regulations for failing to protect workers from a recognized hazard.

While the specific act of using a flammable liquid is difficult to predict, the risk of violence in such a setting is easy to anticipate. OSHA apparently felt the company hadn't done enough in analyzing the risk, taking appropriate countermeasures, and training employees against the risk of such violence.

Just as every industry has its own risks, every job site has unique characteristics. Some, such as entry into a confined space, are easy to anticipate. Others can require a little more detective work: underground electric lines, chemical interactions, weather, etc.

A good job hazard analysis (OSHA has sample forms) can aid in the process of both identifying and responding to the hazards. Response can range from the preferred action of eliminating the hazard altogether, to taking steps to reduce the possibility of serious consequences through other means such as protective bracing, environmental monitoring, personal protective equipment and operating procedures.

Looking for hazards, though, isn't enough. An employer is also expected to inspect the workplace and equipment periodically, interview employees to help identify risks (including work practices), document safety information, investigate incidents, review documentation and incidents, analyze data, and take action to reduce risks.

Of course, the hazards must be clearly communicated to the workers. In fact, employees can be a key to identifying both the hazards and the actions that will best protect them. That's why they should be included during the entire process of hazard analysis, not just in a pre-job brief. Not only will inclusion get you a better analysis, it will help get workers to buy into the safety culture you are trying to create.

Communications

What you say can have a big impact on how workers respond to a hazard. If your safety talks continually mention the importance of staying on schedule, workers will take those messages to heart; they may feel that staying on schedule is more important than staying safe. Or, worse yet, they may get the impression that you are more concerned about your schedule than you are about their safety, and feel hesitant about bringing up safety issues or stopping work when faced with a new hazard or changing conditions.

We all get comfortable in our jobs and think we know the risks. But conditions change, things go wrong, there are human errors, people get lazy, or they get rushed. Thoughts like, "That will never happen," are sometimes followed by words such as, "Who ever thought that could happen?"

By then it's too late, so be proactive, get your employees involved, and identify risks before they lead to accidents.



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