EHS Today has been conducting the National Safety Survey for 15 years now, since 2000, and it's interesting to see the change in focus (and language) experienced by EHS professionals.
In initial surveys, there was a lot of talk about safety "programs," and behavioral-based safety was the new tool in the safety toolbox. And speaking of toolbox, "toolbox talks" got quite a few mentions as a new, innovative way to share safety information with employees. Lean manufacturing was causing concerns among EHS managers in 2000, with one respondent noting that EHS managers needed to "translate safety issues into the cost-per-share argument." Sound familiar?
When asked, "What is the most important issue facing EHS managers?" respondents in 2000 mentioned machine safety, ergonomic stressors, noise and vibration, falls, electrical hazards, exposure to toxic chemicals, fires/explosions, confined spaces, heat stress, motor vehicle safety, indoor air quality and radiation. With a few exceptions (radiation?!), the list of safety challenges with a potential for injuries has not changed much in 15 years.
What has changed is the language of safety. For the most part, we no longer talk of workplace hazards as "safety challenges." Workplace hazards are what cause injuries, but "challenges" are seen as the bigger-picture issues such as process, engagement and culture. A reduction in injuries is a by-product of improving process, engagement and culture.
Respondents in 2015 shared that their most frequently logged injuries were cuts and lacerations, sprains and strains, back injuries related to manual handling and slip-and-fall related injuries, with an occasional eye injury, chemical exposure, car accident and struck-by injury thrown in. Their safety challenges, however, mostly were related to engagement at all levels of the organization: executives, supervisors, line employees and contractors.
When asked, "In what area would you most like to see improvement in your organization/facility's EHS program?" most responses were related to engagement and culture. A sample of answers includes:
"I would like to see a higher emphasis put on safety rather than production."
"Move to leading indicators and risk assessments over lagging indicators and audits. [We need] stronger corporate requirements [related to] facility management personal involvement in safety goals and safety management system implementation."
"Front-line management support across the board..."
"I would like to see our corporation move away from a focus on 'activity' tracking metrics and move in the direction of employee engagement policies that focus on eliminating exposures through behavior-based training. [We need a] focus on quality of training and measures, not quantity of activity alone."
"Better participation from support organizations (i.e., facilities and maintenance, engineering)."
"Better subcontractor buy-in for safety participation. (We are a construction general contractor.)"
"Seasoned employees claim to be on board with safety but if there is an install deadline, safety takes a back seat to 'whatever it takes to get it done.'"
"Safety leadership of field management (superintendents) is improving slowly, but upper management cannot afford to discipline superintendents who do not perform well in safety because of shortage of experienced construction help."
"Understanding from [employees] that safety [training] is not just … for you, it is also for your family, your job and your life. It is one thing to be good at what you do and to do it quickly. However, safety will bring that plus a quality of life to your business endeavors and family livelihood."
"Cultivation of the 'safety mind.' Continuous improvement. After we have made improvements and had good results, what is next?"
Question: Can you share an example of a workplace EHS-related challenge that your company solved or improved in the last year?
"We have a pretty good incident review process. Unfortunately, that means we are reactive to something that already happened. Through these meetings, we sometimes come up with best practices that make the organization better. This type of engagement needs to be filtered downline to the local operational level."
"Forklift-pedestrian exposure in factories was improved by installing front and rear 'blue light' projection systems that alert pedestrians that a forklift is approaching. This system works very well, especially in blind spots in the factories."
"We were able to engage employees in reporting unsafe conditions. The perception before was that reporting an unsafe condition would lead to a write-up or termination, which was not true."
"Lockout/tagout - indication in 2013/2014 of poor program implementation. Two-year corporate-wide emphasis program has resulted in measureable decrease in incidents/near misses related to LOTO."
"At the beginning of the year we communicated to everyone on site and emphasized the importance of all reporting, including near misses. Our near miss reporting is up and we contribute our improved performance on proactively learning from these incidents before anyone gets hurt."
Question: What is the most frequent complaint that you hear from employees about your organization's EHS program?
"Poor communication from managers to employees about important safety issues."
"[EHS] is a necessary evil."
"Broken communication through supervisors to employees."
"Policies and procedures are too in-depth and lengthy."
"Feedback is not consistent. Explaining the 'WHY' to employees for protection, reasons for mitigations and corrections."
"Not enough staff and not enough resources."
"Inconsistent implementation of safety policies."
"Employees do not always see how the required safety training applies to what they do in their day-to-day activities."
"That we have come up with another rule that will make it harder for them to do their jobs… This is where I coach individuals to get involved in safety up front because it effects everyone and everything we do."