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5 Steps for a Safer Business and Workspace

By: Kevin Gardner

Accidents in the workplace can be devastating to everyone involved. Not only can they have a profound impact on the victim, but also by their company, fellow employees, and loved ones. A proactive approach is the only way to diminish workplace accidents and create a safer environment for employees. Thankfully, it can be done with ease and minimal effort. Here are five simple steps you can take to improve safety in the workplace.

1. Keep Up with Equipment Maintenance and Protective Gear
Every business has equipment, and all equipment requires maintenance. Keeping your equipment up to code and ensuring that everyone allowed to use it is properly trained is vital. You also have to consider all the malfunction possibilities and prepare for them. For example, keep a backup generator and an automatic transfer switch to prepare for power outages, particularly if your facility operates equipment that relies on continuous or near-continuous uptime.

If you own equipment that requires safety gear for operation, be sure that gear is available and functioning. Place someone in charge of supplying the gear and ensuring that everyone is using it properly. Additionally, stay on top of the quality; broken protective gear may not be very effective.​

2. Stick to What You Know
It is pertinent that employees understand that they should not attempt to perform tasks for which they have not been trained. More often than not, workplace accidents are caused by employees who attempt a dangerous task without the proper training. It may be born of a desire to help out or come from frustration when work isn’t being done, but it’s crucial to cultivate a workplace atmosphere where employees understand the importance of staying in their lane. Additionally, employees should be made to feel that they can refuse to do tasks outside of their training without fear of reprisal.

3. Stay Alert
Hypervigilance is required for many things that you do on a regular basis. Driving, for example, requires you to be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. The same can be said about the workplace. It’s a simple concept; being alert and aware on the job will significantly lower your risk of getting into a dangerous accident or causing something negative to happen around you. Additionally, being mindful of your surroundings can mean ensuring that others are being safe as well. If you’re aware of their actions around you, you might be able to step in and help prevent an accident from happening.​

4. Avoid Shortcuts
“Short-cut culture” is a problem that can easily be remedied. When it comes to protective gear, equipment maintenance, operation standards and employee conduct code, there can never be shortcuts. Skipping steps can be enticing, particularly because they can save time and money, but they also increase the likelihood that something dangerous will happen. 

Sometimes companies prioritize quick turnaround over everything else, and that can be unsafe. When employees focus on speed, shortcuts happen, and when they happen often, they become ingrained in company culture and are implemented in everyday operations. Over time, that new normal can create a chain of misinformation and even push out new hires with improper training.

5. Maintain a Clean Environment
clean work environment is always safer. Managers and supervisors have a responsibility to clearly explain the rules on workplace tidiness, and more importantly, they have to ensure that employees adhere to those rules and keep their own spaces clean and safe. Policies must be put into place and clearly articulated so that every employee feels a sense of responsibility for their area. Most companies have a cleaning staff to come in at the end of the week and handle the janitorial work, but imagine the clutter and mess that might collect if no one took responsibility for the messes that inevitably pile up throughout the day. In general, a clean workplace also just looks and feels better for everyone.

There’s no shortage of data on workplace accidents and injuries. Whether you are a small business with just a few employees or a large facility with hundreds of employees, safety must be a priority. If it starts from the top, it becomes part of company culture and helps everyone follow suit.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.