Have a Plan – and Then What?

July 7, 2011
One of my OSHA instructors once said, “A safety program has to have four basic components. First of all, you have to actually have a plan in place. If you don’t have a safety plan, the following three are meaningless. Secondly, it needs to be in writing. ...

One of my OSHA instructors once said, “A safety program has to have four basic components. First of all, you have to actually have a plan in place. If you don’t have a safety plan, the following three are meaningless. Secondly, it needs to be in writing. Because we all know if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. Thirdly, the program needs to be clearly communicated to your employees. They need to know what the program actually entails. And finally, employers need to continuously monitor the effectiveness of the safety plan.”

This process came in handy when my younger brother recently asked me to help lay sod in his front yard. Of course I was more than happy to help out my little brother by providing my time, truck, physical exertion and limited knowledge of the sod process. And yes, I’m definitely collecting those IOU checks for the future. I’m kidding … but seriously, they come in handy.

In any case, we had the plan: Remove the old grass and replace it with the dark green, thick, healthy stuff. We put it in writing: the measurements (square footage) of the yard, how much sod we’d need, what tools and products we’d need and the expense, which always seems to be far more than the original estimation. Next, we communicated the plan: We headed to the nursery and asked the garden “expert” what the steps and actions we needed to take in order to make this mission a successful one.

Eight hours and a pair of ruined shoes later, the job was complete. Now it’s up to my brother to monitor, manicure and make all this work pay off.

Going the Distance

In my experience, you can approach workers on a construction site and ask if their company has a safety program – let’s use a fall protection program as an example. Most likely, the workers will respond with an emphatic “yes.” When asked what the fall protection plan is, most of them can give you the watered down, standard answers. For example, they might say, “When working from 6 feet or more above a lower level, a personal fall arrest system is required. Checking the harness and lanyard before every use is also required.” Some can even give you the amount of weight an anchor must be able to support.

All these are very good things. Can I get an “air hi-five” for that? But ask them what the procedure is once someone has fallen and is hanging by the yo-yo or lanyard and you get a blank stare, a shrug of the shoulders and a disappointing “I don’t know.”

I ask you this: What’s the use of having an IIPP, SOPs or a safety program at all if you’re not actually using it, communicating and training your employees on it, or revising and making necessary changes to the program? Why invest in an emergency action plan if your employees don’t know what to do when an emergency actually happens?

Let’s assume that you have a written safety program in place. Now what? Well, how about holding regular safety meetings (tailgates, tool box topics, etc.) on job-specific safety hazards. In those meetings, you could ask your employees to physically show you how to lift an extension ladder, place it correctly against the wall (4-to-1 ratio, 36 inches above landing) and how to safely climb the ladder (three points of contact). You could give a quiz on the safety topic, preventing the ever popular “pencil whipping.” Consider developing an incentive or bonus program to encourage safe work practices.

In the end, sometimes it’s just a matter of supervisors, superintendents and safety professionals getting out on the jobsite and hanging out with the workers. Ask the workers questions and request their suggestions. Always remember that a truly effective safety program is a fluid process.

Whatever you find most effective for your company and employees, make it happen – like my brother’s new front yard. All that planning, work, time and effort is pointless if you don’t follow up, monitor and make necessary changes to your safety program.

Guest blogger Aaron J. Morrow is a safety consultant, an OSHA 500 trainer, a Cal/OSHA 5109 trainer and a construction risk insurance specialist.

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