The adage “hindsight is 20/20” should not be used for health and safety. In fact, prevention is the preferred modus operandi. Finding and fixing problems and hazards before employees are hurt is always the best approach.
Research shows prevention programs are effective at reducing workplace illnesses and injuries. Significant decreases are reported by leading companies that have adopted the preventive approach. In addition, transformation of safety culture usually follows. This positive change leads to higher productivity, reduced worker turnover, and greater employee satisfaction. Would you like a more successful health and safety program? Use a proactive approach to protect your employees and put a HASP on potential hazards in the workplace.
Related article: Making Safety an Inseparable Part of All Lab Activities
HASP, a health and safety plan template, contains essential elements developed by health and safety professionals based on research conducted by the National Safety Council.1 HASP represents a framework for building an effective injury and illness prevention program as promoted by OSHA2 and, in fact, is required in some states.
Hazard recognition, evaluation, and control
Hazard recognition, evaluation, and control make up the core of industrial hygiene and are key to a successful health and safety program. It starts with proactive hazard recognition in the environment (the surroundings of the workers), the people doing the work, the equipment and materials used in the work process, and the work processes/practices used.
A good initial step entails performing “job hazard analysis,” which assists with identification and is integral to many of the other elements listed below. For example, in a lab, the chemical hygiene plan calls for standard operating procedures that detail all the steps in a task or process. Once hazards have been identified and prioritized, control strategies are developed. The generally accepted hierarchy of controls is elimination/substitution, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and administrative controls.
Workplace design and engineering
Designing safety into a workplace is as important as designing in efficiency, and they often go hand in hand. Building codes address certain areas (e.g., electrical standards, fire suppression, and egress requirements), but other aspects need conscious reflection. Examples include ergonomics, ventilation, noise controls for the anticipated work, equipment and machine safeguarding, materials handling and storage, use of automated processes, and added reserve capacity.
Motivation, behavior, and attitudes
The goal of a good HASP is to encourage behavior and attitudes that promote a safer and healthier workplace.
Great value should be placed on visible leadership from upper management and support for changing unsafe behaviors, attitudes, and work processes. Tip: Reinforce desired behaviors through recognition of positive actions.
After we have identified and evaluated the hazards, we need to ensure adequate training for all employees. Use a variety of forms, from classroom style to hands-on, from general concepts to task-specific. It is critical that employees know what to do to perform their jobs correctly and safely. Tip: Develop a detailed orientation program for each different group to ensure initial training for specific tasks.
The nature and scope of a worker occupational health program is driven by the facility’s mission and work specifics. In research laboratory settings, one expects pre-employment health evaluations, periodic medical surveillance, injury protocols (e.g., for first aid, needle-sticks, and blood-borne pathogens), maintenance of medical records, and coordination among the departments when work-related health and safety issues arise. For example, coordination of respiratory protection and hearing conservation programs when both programs are necessary.
Accurate job descriptions are needed that take into consideration job duties (such as respirator or hearing-protection use or exposure to chemicals), especially those that trigger the need for pre-employment evaluations and medical surveillance.
Research laboratories face regulations from OSHA, the EPA, and the DOT, and often accreditation or other agency-specific standards. Noncompliance can have serious ramifications in terms of financial liability (penalties and fines), institutional reputation, and, in some cases, the ability to continue operations. It is very important to have a mechanism for staying informed and complying with existing regulations and standards. It is also very important to keep abreast of new or evolving regulations that will impact operations. Tip: Perform a self-assessment or have an outside party conduct compliance audits at regular intervals.
Performance measurement should reflect how employees (management included) are doing compared with applicable regulatory requirements and identified corporate goals. This should include a system of accountability for meeting those standards within their control.
Control and management of environmental and other external events
Environmental management is broad and complex, covering issues from proper permitting to preventing potential environmental liability. In addition, incident or emergency plans should be developed for severe weather, incidents stemming from contractor or “neighborhood incidents,” and issues such as protestors or activists.
Audits, record keeping, and reporting
This last essential element of a great HASP is focused on monitoring and measuring health and safety performance. It begins with good record keeping–a system of collecting and recording accidents, incidents, close calls, and injuries. Accurate information is critical for good decision making. In addition to requiring accident and injury reporting and collecting specifics, data needs to be analyzed and the results distributed to managers and others who need to maintain regulatory compliance.
Routine and regular health and safety audits, performed by in-house staff or committees or with outside consultants, should collect, analyze, report, and feed systems for improvement.
Those are the major components of a good HASP–a starting point for developing your own program, guaranteed to help reduce injuries and illnesses and pay healthy dividends in the long run.
1. Nine Elements of a Successful Safety and Health Program, John Czemiak & Don Ostrander, National Safety Council, 2005. http://shop.nsc.org/Sale-Products-Nine-Elements-of-a-Successful-S-H-System-P24.aspx
2. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs White Paper. US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington, D.C., 2012. https://www.osha.gov/dsg/InjuryIllnessPreventionProgramsWhitePaper.html