January 16, 2003
A successful safety awareness program continually reminds employees to work safely using proper procedures when performing all tasks. To have a real and lasting effect, the safety awareness program must be both pertinent to the specific activities of the workplace and be consistent day to day. However, the program and its messages must have enough variety so they don't become routine or mundane.
We considered all of the above several years ago when we crafted our safety awareness program at the Aeroglide Corporation. Our first goal was to make the program applicable to the company's specific activities. To do that, we began by reviewing our workplace activities and the potential hazards associated with each. We then reviewed our safety performance over a several-year period to understand fully the nature of the accidents we suffered and their respective causes. Finally, we considered potential hazards outside the workplace that our employees might be exposed to.
From this information we put together a list of topics that pertain to our workplace. These topics provided the structure for the program. We then reviewed the list to see if any of these topics might be time-sensitive. For example, working in a building without air conditioning, we recognized that one of the hazards we face is heat stress. Obviously, this issue is more critical during the summer months, so we decided that we would review heat-related issues in late spring so that the topic would be fresh on our minds when we were exposed to the hazard.
Once we had identified a list of topics that we wanted to cover, we next had to decide how to cover them. Our manufacturing work teams conduct weekly Safety Toolbox meetings during which they review their current activities and any potential hazards associated with those activities. Additionally, we hold weekly Manufacturing Plant meetings for all manufacturing employees during which we discuss a variety of topics of interest to employees, such as performance goals, quality issues, schedule, backlog, and safety. The Safety Committee decided to use both venues to address our monthly safety topics.
We felt it was important to provide Safety Toolbox meeting team leaders with materials related to our monthly topics that they could review at their weekly meetings. We found that there was a wide variety of materials available in the marketplace to help us. We eventually settled on text published by Business and Legal Reports entitled "Safety Meeting Repros." This two-volume collection covers many topics in several different formats. We reviewed this material and selected certain lesson plans to be distributed to our team leaders and used as aids in discussing the particular hazard of the month.
In addition to the weekly lesson plans, we thought it would be instructive (and fun) to sprinkle our plant meetings with other activities to address the hazards. The possibilities here were endless. Some months we simply offered training on the topic of the month. For example, when we were addressing hand and foot injuries, we showed a video on hand safety. For other events, we brought in local experts. When reviewing back injuries, we hired the Red Cross to give back safety training. When addressing fire safety, we brought in our local Fire Department to give live demonstrations on the use of fire extinguishers. When addressing heat issues, we brought in a local doctor to talk about what causes heat stress; the signs of heat stress; and what to do when you encounter heat-related stress, stroke, or exhaustion.
At other times we came up with off-the-wall activities to reinforce the topic of the month. To reinforce the importance of stopping at a stop sign located in the plant parking lot, members of our Safety Committee observed employees as they arrived to work in the morning. Those who came to a full stop at the stop sign were rewarded with a coupon for a free biscuit and orange juice in the plant break room.
To encourage and foster continual safety mindsets in our employees, we attempted to identify and address hazards that they might encounter daily outside the workplace. For example, one afternoon we stopped employees as they were leaving work for the day. Those employees who had secured their seat belts were given a free soda to enjoy on their rides home; those who hadn't put on seat belts were simply reminded to buckle up before leaving.
We also have tied certain annual training programs to our safety awareness program. For example, during the month in which we focus on forklift and crane safety, we give our annual forklift certification test. When we discuss fire safety, we conduct a thermal analysis of our building's electrical system.
Now that the template for our safety awareness program has been created, we simply review it annually and modify it as necessary to make it more relevant. The Safety Committee reviews the template at the end of the year and discusses what went well and what could be improved in the upcoming year. The template is then modified and provides the committee with a plan for safety awareness for the upcoming year.
By doing this we ensure that we are covering the topics that are applicable to our workplace, that we are consistent in our message, and that we provide the variety that keeps the message fresh. Only by keeping safety in the forefront of our employees' minds, can we instill safe work practices into our day-to-day culture.
Mark Paulson, P.E., is vice president of operations for Aeroglide Corp., Raleigh, N.C., and chairman of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association's (FMA) Safety Committee. He can be reached at 919-851-2000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.