Sandy Says: Summertime and the Living's Easy?

July 1, 2010
My garden reminded me why a safety process has to be sustainable if risks and hazards are to be managed and lives saved.

My home was on a garden tour last week. While I love gardening — you even could say I'm passionate it about it — I never want my home to be on another garden tour.

The garden looked beautiful, but the work involved to get it to the point where I wasn't ashamed to have other, better gardeners see it was not sustainable. When all is said and done, between the hours and hours spent working on the garden and the money spent on garden materials, I could have vacationed in Europe. EUROPE!!! Where they have beautiful gardens that I don't have to weed!

Unfortunately, too many safety programs are like my garden: they are expensive and come on like gangbusters but peter out as people lose interest, the results unsustainable. A week after the tour, I'm starting to see some weeds popping up in the flower beds, the grass needs to be cut, hornets are building a nest under the eaves of the house and the mulberry tree has dropped fruit all over a walkway where it ferments in the sun, getting stinkier by the day.

I've found that to be true at many companies: One year I receive press releases from public relations firms touting “perfect” safety records, the next I'm seeing OSHA press releases naming the companies and detailing fatalities and fines.

These days, a safety process has to be sustainable and relevant to be considered successful. Once, we measured success by the numbers — injuries, lost workdays, workers' comp claims, etc. Now, we measure success by what we've prevented — injuries and deaths avoided, toxins that were not released into the atmosphere, materials recycled and kept out of the waste stream.

As risks, corporate priorities, equipment and the work force changes, the safety process has to change. It cannot be taken for granted that because safety performance one year was stellar, all successive years will be as well without the same amount of effort. Without a plan — a vision — that incorporates all aspects of the work process, workplace and work force, your safety process can and will become another failed safety effort.

To that end, OSHA has added a potential rule to its regulatory agenda that would require employers to implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which would involve “planning, implementing, evaluating and improving processes and activities that protect employee safety and health.”

OSHA Administrator David Michaels said the potential standard would offer “a mechanism to achieve the culture change needed in this country to effectively address workplace safety and health issues.”

Years ago, a researcher complained to me that too many companies and regulatory agencies like OSHA focused on preventing fatalities. A focus on preventing injuries by eliminating hazards, he argued, would have the added benefit of reducing fatalities as well.

What OSHA finally seems to be acknowledging is that the same hazards that cause injuries and illnesses often are the cause of fatalities. Dumb luck is the only thing standing between an employee slipping and falling and spraining his wrist and slipping and falling and fracturing his skull or breaking his neck. The same machine hazards that cause a broken finger for one employee could result in the death of another who's dragged into the mechanism.

At the recent professional conference for the American Society of Safety Engineers, Michaels said the potential rule “could change workplace health and safety on level we haven't seen since [the 1970] OSH Act.”

I think he's right. I wonder if he has any gardening advice?

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