Guidelines, knowledge of proven methods and automatic compliance with OHS principles are not enough to create a safe workplace. Continue reading “10 safety measures each employee should know”
Employing lone workers is in many ways different from employing your regular staff. We took a look at the three most important things you might want keep in mind when it comes to ensuring their safety.
1. Most workers are lone workers. Some are just more likely to slide under the radar.
Many people assume that lone workers are mostly maintenance staff that attends sites alone and out-of-hours. In fact, anyone who is alone when on the job can be classified as a lone worker.
This includes everyone from those who man the checkout at a gas station after hours, office workers who travel to business meetings alone. As you can see, even if you spend only a part of your working hours alone, you’re classified as a lone worker. For instance, a cleaner who leaves the office when everyone else is already gone is a lone worker — in spite of arriving when the building was still full of people. Also, it doesn’t matter if they’re employed or freelancers who work alone.
The term “lone worker” doesn’t only apply to wind turbine maintenance staff or, let’s say, isolated oil rig workers. Still, because of this misconception, many managers in all kinds of industries fail to identify the lone workers they oversee.
2. As an employer, you’re required to ensure safety of your lone workers — it’s something everyone will benefit from.
Lone workers in all industries need to be protected. While some of they might work in hazardous environments, the real danger arises from the fact that they work alone. This means that if something happens to them, whether it’s an intruder confronting the worker, malfunctioning machinery, a fall, or any other accident, there’s no one to help them. This is where implementing a wireless safety system steps in.
Persons in process
Obviously, having a safety system in place protects the lone worker most of all. However, the benefits of having a safety system go far beyond that:
- The lone worker. When a lone worker can call for help quickly and receive an immediate response, the likelihood of harm decreases significantly. For this reason, many companies nowadays begin to implement various employee tracking systems. Second, the lone worker won’t feel as isolated as before which increases confidence and productivity. Finally, lone workers will feel more valued by the employer.
- The manager. Use of an emergency tracking device creates a clear assessment trail. This helps the manager see how often lone workers encounter problems. At the same time, it means that the manager has a clearly delineated list of responsibilities when it comes to overseeing lone workers.
- The organisation. When employees feel secure and serious accidents are scarce, investors and stakeholders feel secure. At the same time, fewer accidents lead to fewer breaches of legislation and employee lawsuits.
- The police. Outside organisations such as the police will also make use of integrated lone worker emergency system. This way emergency responders will be more effective in handling alarms than delayed phone calls. At the same time, these systems reduce the number of false alarms.
In the end, worker safety benefits the whole community. Lone workers and managers are able to relax, knowing there’s a standard safety system in place in case of emergency. Organisations are able to attract the best employees. Companies don’t have to pay for employee lawsuits and work that is not performed due to work accidents. Positive effects are far reaching.
3. Lone workers require different types of monitoring.
Most employees are easily monitored and their working environment is relatively easy to control. After all, you can normally find them in the company offices. When it comes to lone workers, there are other variables you need to consider:
- Can one person adequately control the risks of the job?
- If a person has a medical condition, are they able to work alone?
- Is the lone worker properly trained to prevent and cope with unexpected situations?
- How will the person be supervised?
- Do I have effective means of monitoring the lone worker?
All of these needs can be met through careful safety training and effective use of modern technologies. Lone workers need to be trained to identify risks in the workplace by themselves and should a volatile situation arise, they need to know how to handle health and safety issues.
Level of supervision
This is closely tied to the level of supervision. The level of it, is a management decision which needs to be based on a risk assessment — the higher the risk, the higher the level of supervision required. Especially if a lone worker is new to a job, it might even be advisable to have them accompanied at the beginning.
In the end, however, every lone worker will have to make do with remote monitoring. For this reason, effective means of communication are of essence:
- Supervisors periodically checking on people working alone;
- Pre-agreed regular intervals of contact between the lone worker and supervisor — either by phone, radio, email, or other technology
- Automatic warning devices which trigger a warning if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker
- Checking in once the lone worker’s task is completed
Bear in mind that in most cases it is a combination of several of systems that will end up being most effective. Which solution will you choose to use will depend on the work environment, hazards present in the workplace, and the tasks done by the lone worker.
Do you work in an office? Relatively safe place? It isn’t advisable to forget about the safety even in such place. Everybody knows OHS.
The question is – how do we, employees, contribute to safety? We will tell you what we do at our company, BeeSafe, for our health and safety.
We are convinced that even small things can influence our health. When we are OK, we are more productive! That’s how it works. And besides, it is necessary to consider possible consequences which don’t appear immediately, but, eventually, they will catch up with everybody! 🙂 We don’t want that.
Monitor at eye level… everybody knows the golden rule that protects the cervical spine. We’ve dealt with it in our own way, using books, catalogues and speakers. Who would say you can reveal parts of personalities just by looking at the monitor? See for yourselves.
Changing positions 🙂 Sitting in one position throughout the entire day helps neither health nor productivity. How do we fight it? The favourite place of our project manager is a discreet standing desk in the corner of the office. He is unavailable when dealing with creative tasks as he supplies his brain with blood by constant walking 🙂 A kneeling chair is another great gadget and it is my favourite. Besides the fact its wheels are much quicker than those of an office chair, I tend to be much more upright.
“Shuttling” between the offices is for those who can’t sit in one place. Kitchen is the favourite coworking place and we often have meetings there. Coffeemaker is a fully-fledged team member then. 🙂 The summer is coming and we’re looking forward to our gazebo in the garden. Hmm… I can already smell that fresh air. At this point, I’d also like to mention yet unwritten internal rule. On sunny days, the employees have to use sunscreen when going out to the garden; members of IT team have to use SPF of at least 30+ 🙂
Not enough movement? When we need to come up with new ideas, switch our heads off a little or loosen up – there, empty the dishwasher. 🙂 That’s right. It might be a little uncommon activity when working in an office, but we’re OK with it (at least some of us are). What wouldn’t one do for one’s health?
Last but not least of our golden tips is low-cost. We observe it daily without any special effort to do so. As a matter of fact, it is an extremely infectious activity which strengthens our muscles, provides our brains with blood, decreases the level of stress and costs nothing. Laughter. Who cares if it’s sometimes only a derisive one. O:)
You don’t have to be a health and safety expert to assess the risks in your workplace. Still, if you want to arrive at useful conclusions, you need to equip yourself with some basic knowledge. The most crucial thing is to know how to identify hazards.
Some hazards pose an imminent danger, others become apparent only after some time.
Moreover, not all kinds of hazards can be completely eliminated. These must be controlled.
If all of this sounds a bit boring and abstract to you, bear with me. I’m going to explain it all on an exciting example of a lava lake.
Before we go any further, let’s get the terminology right.
- A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemical, machines, electricity, ladders, etc.
- A risk is the chance, whether high or low, that somebody could be harmed by hazards, together with an indication how serious the harm could be.
- A harm includes death, injury, illnesses (including mental ones) or disease that may be suffered by a person from a hazard.
- A control — a system which is in place in order to eliminate harm.
For instance, if your work requires to have a lava lake in your workplace for some reason, the lava lake represents a hazard. The risk is the chance that someone falls into the lava lake. A harm is the natural consequence of that person dying a horrible death. Finally, a control is the railing you install around the lava lake once you’ve identified it as a hazard.
Sure, this is an absurd example. Most safety hazards are not so easy to spot and you might even think your workplace is relatively free from hazards. But then someone dies in a terrible lava lake accident and you realise you could have easily prevented if you only identified the hazard sooner.
5 Types of Workplace Hazards
Notice how the whole process of eliminating risks starts with identifying hazards. It’s crucial that you know where to look for them. If you don’t know where to begin, check out the list below.
1. Physical hazards
These are the most common hazards and can be present in all kinds of workplaces. They can harm the body even without necessarily touching it.
- Frayed electrical cords
- Unguarded machinery
- Constant loud noise
2. Biological hazards
These include any exposure to harm or disease related to working with people, animals, or infectious biological materials. Workplaces with these kinds of hazards include, for example, hospitals, laboratories, nursing homes, emergency, schools, etc.
- Bacteria and viruses
- Fungi and mold
- Blood, saliva, and other body fluids
- Insects bites
- Animal droppings
3. Ergonomic hazards
Occur when the type of work, body positions and work conditions put a strain on your body. They are difficult to spot, since their effects only become apparent after a longer period of time. What starts as a sore back after spending a day in the office can result in severe scoliosis over time.
- Improperly set up workstations and chairs
- Frequent heavy lifting
- Poot posture
- Awkward repetitive movements
- Poor lighting
4. Chemical hazards
As the name implies, these hazards are present when a worker comes into contact with a chemical solution in any form — be it solid, gas, or liquid. Some are less damaging than other but to some workers even common chemicals can cause illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems.
- Cleaning products, paints, acids
- Vapours and dangerous fumes
- Gases like propane, acetylene, carbon monoxide
- Flammable chemicals
5. Work organisation hazards
Hazards associated with the human aspect of work. These mostly arise from:
- Workplace demands
- Workplace violence
- Intensity or pace
- Social support or relations
- Sexual harassment
Poor work practices create hazards
Sure, all of the above sounds pretty straightforward. However, things can get really tricky once you realise that majority of work hazards is created by employers themselves.
It’s a real nightmare, employers make hazards pop up all over the place, all the time.
- Using machinery or tools without authority
- Defective tools or equipment
- Using tools or equipment in unsafe ways
- Standing or working under suspended loads, scaffolds, shafts, or open hatches
- Failing to use personal protective equipment or safety devices
- Overloading, crowding or failing to balance materials
- Repairing or adjusting equipment that is in motion, under pressure, or electrically charged
- Working alone or without a proper tracking equipment
Moreover, hazards created by employers are almost impossible to predict. Even if you have all controlling measures perfectly set up and in place, it’s always just a matter of time before someone finds a creative way to circumvent them and get hurt.
To quote the Interstellar’s tautological wisdom:
“Whatever can happen, will.”
In those cases it’s important to have procedures in place to help the victim quickly. At the same time, every incident is an opportunity to improve your safety practices.
Outsourcing has been a strong trend in business for several decades. In 2002, an EU-OSHA report already concluded that “many companies now only carry out core functions in-house while ancillary functions have been outsourced.” The resulting chains of suppliers and subcontractors have become only more widespread since.
It hardly comes as a surprise that contractors and subcontractors suffer from higher average accident rates than in-plant staff. After all, outsourcing represents a significant change to work arrangements. This makes compliance to occupational health and safety (OHS) standards a considerable challenge.
Contractors can be more vulnerable to cognitive biases.
However, there is another important element at play — cognitive biases. Overconfidence effect, ostrich effect, availability heuristic, and social proof are only few of the many cognitive biases that influence our decision making as well as safety standards. We tend to overestimate some risks while underestimating others. And how we evaluate these risks usually has only little to do with how dangerous they really are.
For this reason, one can only battle these hazards by establishing strong occupational health and safety policies that leave little to chance. And indeed, over the past couple of decades, safety specialists have done an amazing job engineering safety mechanisms that limit the influence of cognitive biases on decision making.
“It’s often enormously difficult to eliminate risks connected to performing uncommon tasks in unfamiliar environments.”
It’s when it comes to making your contractors adhering to these standards that things get a bit more difficult. Sure, proper training and good OHS management systems can eliminate most risks associated with performing common tasks in familiar work environment. However, it’s often enormously difficult to eliminate risks connected to performing uncommon tasks in unfamiliar environments — the two inadvertent qualities of contractors’ work.
You might expect that most contractors know of the elevated risks that come with their work and behave accordingly. Unfortunately, practice shows that this is frequently not the case. Sometimes they don’t know. In some cases they don’t care. And then there are some who simply don’t have enough resources to invest into safety.
4 steps to ensure your contractors’ safety.
Still, in spite of the difficulties tied to contracted work, you’re expected to ensure they upheld health and safety standards at all times. After all, you both have duties under health and safety law. How do you do that?
- Select a suitable contractor. It’s not effective trying to educate someone who already doesn’t care about health and safety. Ensure your contractors have sufficient skills and training to get the job done safely from the get-go.
- Assess the risks of the work. This will depend on the nature of the job as well as the work environment. You probably already have the risk assessment for your own work activities. The contractor must assess risks of the contracted work. Finally, you also need to consider risks arising from each other’s work that could affect you mutually.
- Instruct and train your employees. Provide your contractor with enough information about risks related to your activities. Don’t forget to inform them about related safeguards and controls as well.
- Set up a contractor safety management system. In the end, you’ll want to standardise this entire process throughout your company.
Your role as the client is absolutely crucial. It’s up to you to demand strict observation of OHS standards. After all, you bear the burden of ensuring safety of all of your employees under the law.