Safety in the Workplace

With a lack of enforcement and a driving force behind it, safety just does not always happen consistently.

Maybe it is just human nature, or maybe it is a sign of the times, but the tendency for people to break rules seems to be increasing. We watch as others and ourselves consistently break the speed limit. We talk to friends who tell us that they took a few extra write-offs at tax time. Our neighbor puts up a garage without getting a building permit, while another dumps oil drained from the crank case of his car on the ground behind his house. Even worse than breaking the rules, though, is the fact that a lot of people accept the behavior as just a part of life.

In our daily lives, generally we overlook the fact that people break the rules. But when we go to work, for some reason, most of us think things should be different. The fact is, if people break the rules outside of work, most likely they will break them inside of work as well.

Compromising safety

This is especially true when it comes to safety. With a lack of enforcement and a driving force behind it, safety just does not always happen consistently. Without a doubt, in the everyday rush to keep facilities running, safety and maintenance work often collide with each other.

One problem lies in the different ideas about expediency. This includes both staff and supervisors. For instance, often it seems easier to go get a chair out of a classroom than to get the proper ladder to change a fluorescent lamp in the hall. It is easier just to crawl in the manhole at the north end of campus to shut off the water to a broken sprinkler line than to go through the trouble of obtaining a permit, gathering the equipment and enlisting the two people required to enter that confined space. It seems easier to leave a breaker untagged and unlocked when you are the only one in the building, and you forgot to bring your tags and locks with you from the shop. All of these things and many more are easier, simpler and more expedient-that is, until an accident happens.

But one of the biggest parts of the problem in a maintenance/safety collision happens at the supervisory level. It occurs both at the physical plant, as well as within the administration. An administrator may want something done right away, and to do it as quickly as he or she wants it done requires that the physical-plant employee ignore safety protocol. A physical-plant manager or foreman may say he or she is committed to safety, but when push comes to shove and the pressure is on, the person may create a situation where workers cannot follow safety procedures as outlined by written policies. Unfortunately, workers are always compromising safety in order to satisfy expediency.

Education for all

In actuality, there is only one way to make the workplace as safe as possible: education. This includes education for everyone, including upper administration, so they understand the time and effort that true safety requires. Safety also requires a complete, unyielding commitment to safety principles, regardless of the existing pressures and circumstances. Following are some ideas for helping your organization achieve an extremely high level of safety:

-Safety officers should never report to the physical-plant director or maintenance manager. They should report directly to the superintendent or appointed upper-level administrator.

-Safety needs real commitment from the top down, not just words of commitment. This means that administration needs to understand the time it takes to achieve safety. They should not try to expedite operations by applying pressure to physical-plant personnel or managers, thus forcing them to ignore safety protocol.

-Everyone should be free to report safety problems and violations without retribution.

-There should be written procedures for all safety protocol, whether they are required by law or not. Employees and managers should then be educated about these procedures and how to follow them. Safety should be part of the job or task, not an addition to it. Discipline should be swift and sure for those not following procedure. Managers also should be disciplined for causing employees to not follow procedure.

-Rewards for excellent safety effort should be meaningful and plentiful. If an organization is saving money on workers' compensation premiums due to an effective and safe workforce, at least some of that money should go toward compensating employees for that record. A good safety program saves much more than just insurance premiums; it leads to better morale and higher attendance at work.

-Make safety a way of life. Do not just concentrate on what can make staff safer at work; give them tools to be safer in all aspects of their life. Train them on defensive driving, home safety, etc., as well.

-Never grant exceptions in following safety procedures. One excuse to not follow a rule is as good as another, and the tendency to skip the rules the next time will be applied by workers to all aspects of the program, therefore making exceptions the rule.

-Make sure that if your organization expects employees to follow safety procedures, then the correct equipment and materials for them to do so should be available. This is a seemingly expensive proposition for some types of safety adherence, but in the long run it will pay off. Never expect maintenance or custodial services to support and purchase that equipment out of their already-depleted supply/equipment budgets either. Safety equipment and materials require their own adequate budgeting processes.

A useful checklist for the non-building costs in the project budget includes the following (As noted, some of these items may be considered building costs if so defined):

-Property acquisition.

-Land/building preparation.

-Land surveys.

-Hazardous-materials surveys.

-Geotechnical investigations.

-Environmental-impact studies.

-Historic-preservation studies.

-Appraisal fees.

-Internal staff costs.

-Advertising.

-Printing.

-Legal fees.

-Building permits.

-Builders risk insurance.

-Finance costs.

-Construction contingency (unforeseen changes).

-Project contingency (discretionary changes).

-Professional consulting services.

-Architectural/engineering fees and reimbursables.

-Preconstruction cost/schedule management fees and reimbursables.

-Programming fees.

-Movable fixtures, furnishings and equipment.

-Special equipment, such as voice/data head-in, satellite and security system.

-Low-voltage cabling not included in electrical contracts.

-Special owner construction.

-Artwork.

-Relocation and occupancy.

-Occupancy permit.

-Open house/dedication.

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