If 2020 was the year occupational safety was thrust into the spotlight, 2021 was the year that proved it needs to stay there.
COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. Neither have all your other safety responsibilities.
And no one needs to remind you of that. You’ve made it through two very tough years. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.
However, new years always offer an opportunity to look ahead and remind ourselves about best practices in safety.
So here’s a list, in no particular order, of best safety practices for 2022:
1. Get workers involved
Who knows best about the hazards of work? The workers themselves.
When formulating safety policies, make sure to get input from a representative group of employees.
2. Let workers know it’s OK to speak up
To get that worker input, they’re going to have to know it’s OK for them to speak up about hazards.
Even if it’s already the culture at your company, any new worker who had a different experience at a previous job may not know they can bring safety concerns to you without fear of retaliation.
Make sure frontline supervisors also accept this type of feedback from workers, and that workers don’t have to fear retaliation from them, either.
3. Remember the importance of frontline supervisors
You can’t be everywhere at once. Frontline supervisors are your eyes and ears regarding safety.
Just as they have to listen to concerns from employees, supervisors need to know you want them to come to you with safety problems and their ideas on how to solve them.
Frontline supervisors are the management representatives employees have the most contact with at work. You won’t be able to reinforce your company’s safety program to employees without their help.
4. Get top management to talk about safety
While getting frontline supervisors to talk about safety is important, it’s also key to have top management address it, too.
Nothing will get employees’ attention more than when someone from the C-suite sincerely explains the importance of safety.
5. Remind workers that safety is about them
When the C-suite talks about safety, one aspect that needs to be included is the personal angle.
While safety is important to the company, the most important part is making sure employees return home at the end of the workday in the same condition they came in.
So safety is about making sure employees can enjoy activities outside of work, such as sports, hobbies and being around so you can meet your grandchildren.
6. Remind C-suite that compliance is the minimum
There’s a lot written out there about onerous OSHA regulations.
You know this: They’re the minimum.
The best companies have safety policies that go above and beyond what OSHA requires.
If upper management relies upon the general media for information, they may have the impression OSHA compliance is more than enough. They need to know that’s not the case.
7. Revisit voluntary industry standards
This goes with No. 6.
If the C-suite wants to know how to go above and beyond OSHA standards, point to voluntary standards, such as those from ANSI/ASSP, that cover your industry.
8. Update your safety management system
Speaking of voluntary standards, remember to revisit your safety management system, or even explore a new one.
As one expert put it at a 2021 safety conference: Surely there are things that were considered good five years ago that should be updated now.
9. Keep up to date with professional associations
AIHA, ASSP, NSC, VPPPA. That’s just the short list.
There are so many ways these associations can help you with your safety program that we could write a series of separate articles on them.
And when it seems like you’re alone at your facility regarding a safety issue (it can happen at the best companies), these associations are the places to find your “safety community,” and realize that you’re not alone.
10. Take advantage of OSHA resources
OSHA isn’t (always) the enemy.
It has an entire division of Cooperative Programs, such as SHARP, VPP and on-site consultations, devoted to helping employers.
And OSHA will answer questions about its regulations and welcomes comments on its proposed standards.
Bonus best practice
That’s it. Well, maybe one more thing.
Sometimes you need to take a step back. Not backward, just back.
It’s a bit cliché, but when you’re bogged down in OSHA or corporate paperwork, remind yourself that occupational safety is all about people. That’s the big picture of safety you should remember when you take that step back.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised lots of issues in your professional sphere the last two years.
Among them is employee mental health — something that didn’t get talked about a lot previously.
An employee who is struggling emotionally is distracted. And that includes being distracted about safety.
In the worst case scenarios, employees struggling emotionally can lead to workplace violence.
Remember: The employee who made a bad safety decision may have an ill relative, childcare issues or has made the tough decision to place a parent in a care facility despite the pandemic because they can’t care for their mom or dad at home.
This is what Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are for.
And finally (really this time), make sure to take care of yourself — in 2022 and for years to come.