This June is the 25th Anniversary of National Safety Month, a National Safety Council (NSC) program. It’s a time to focus on keeping ourselves and others safe from home to work and back again, each and every day.
In 2019, the United States saw the highest numbers of workplace deaths since 2007 – over 5300+ documented – and in 2020, that number grew dramatically as many essential workers were sickened by or died from COVID-19 while completing their daily jobs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is the agency tasked with ensuring the right of every American to a workplace free of safety and health hazards, is also celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. This mission is as important now as it was five decades ago.
Here is a four-week sample plan providing you with tips to help your team strategize for summer workplace safety:
Week 1 – Prevent Incidents Before They Start
Summer months are notorious for an increase in workplace injuries – resulting from heat illnesses, increased roadwork and traffic, construction activity, and on-boarding of newer, less experienced workers. Use this time to survey the safety scene in your facility and review any new or changing risks to employees. This is especially important as companies adjust to workforce or workplace outputs that may have been altered due to COVID-19. Heat-related illnesses can occur on factory floors just as they can for outdoor construction laborers. It’s important to keep your facility well-ventilated and cool during the summer months. Use these tips to plan ahead and keep your team safe.
June is also the start of hurricane season. For employers in southern and coastal Georgia, given the recent damage sustained during Hurricanes Michael and Dorian, preparing now for expected storms and their disruptions to your workplace is critical. OSHA has numerous resources available for employers, including their Hurricane Preparedness and Response page, which has useful tools to identify and address the exposures and risks for severe weather.
Week 2 – Address Ongoing COVID-19 Safety Concerns
As communities and workplaces navigate the pressure to fully re-open and re-staff, concerns and hurdles both physical and emotional remain. Companies with increased or serious risk of exposure to coronavirus must understand their obligations for providing a safe and healthy workplace. The recently released Department of Labor’s National Emphasis Program for COVID-19 is a tool for OSHA to target their resources (both outreach/training and enforcement) towards industries and activities that are highly hazardous. These enforcement efforts ultimately mean that a company who finds themselves on the “Target Industry List” are more likely to receive an OSHA inspection.
The Georgia Tech Safety, Health, Environmental Services (SHES) group is equipped to assist small- to medium-sized manufacturers with understanding both their responsibilities regarding protocols and policies around COVID-19 and the national emphasis program through their Consultation Program and trainings.
Week 3 – It’s Vital to Feel Safe on the Job
Employees who feel protected and valued by their employers can keep their focus where it needs to be – working safely. Thorough job hazard assessments, clear and timely communication, and a process to report safety or health concerns without fear of retaliation are all important components of an effective safety and health management program. Manufacturing activities known to create increased workplace risks include forklift operation, automated machines, and sanitation procedures in the food and beverage industries, so much so that OSHA has established enforcement of Emphasis Programs for these industries to again target resources where they are most warranted.
The mental and emotional health of employees has suffered intensely in the last year as job insecurity, personal illness and loss, and ongoing concern around the possibility of workplace violence have all been additional factors added to employees’ daily lives. Finding ways to connect employees with supportive resources to address job stress and build resilience or address fatigue is critical to keeping staff healthy and safe.
Week 4 – Advance Your Safety Journey
Observing National Safety Month provides an opportunity for all stakeholders in a company, from the C-suite to floor associates, to pause and reflect on the safety and health of their organization and to recommit to continuous improvement and performance. Ensuring your team has access to appropriate and current training resources, or participating in networking and collaboration opportunities with other companies seeking to proactively identify and reduce hazardous workplace exposures, is good business practice.
The need for improving safety outcomes in the workplace never stops, so keep advancing the commitment in your facility and consider participating in the Safety + Sound Week (August 9-15, 2021), which is an annual nationwide event recognizing the success of workplace health and safety programs, and an opportunity to share best practices and strategies with others in your network.
Where do I Start?
If you are a small- to medium-sized manufacturer that is interested in a no-cost (and confidential) assessment of your safety and health programs and/or your physical worksite, the Georgia Safety and Health Consultation Program is available to assist you. Our highly-trained safety and health consultants can provide guidance on OSHA regulations and strategies for controlling common hazards, including COVID-19, to keep your business in compliance and your employees safe (Small-medium is defined as businesses having 250 or less employees at the site and 500 or less total U.S. corporate employees).
By: Hilarie Warren, MPH, CIH, Director – Georgia Tech OSHA Training Institute Education Center; Principle Research Scientist – Safety, Health & Environmental Services