Understanding the full scope of potential safety issues can be daunting. Fires, tornados, chemical releases and workplace violence may be the worst-case scenarios to plan for, but they’re not the only issues a company should develop safety protocols for.
“A safety issue that people tend to forget is ergonomics,” said Susan Booth, vice president of business development for the National Safety Council, Nebraska (NCSN). “The desks and chairs of workers working from home may not be fitted properly, and developing a plan is key.”
Other types of safety plans—depending on the industry and the workload required—include such training as bloodborne pathogens, respiratory protection, fall protection, hazard communication, electrical safety, excavation and trenching.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation accounts for 62% of workplace fatalities,” Booth said. “We suggest that organizations review their safety policies that include seat belts and distracted driving.”
Because Riekes Equipment works with heavy equipment and machinery in many different environments, its safety plan covers lots of ground, according to Director of Marketing Lisa Brink.
“We like to plan for everything,” she said. “We have extensive policies, practices and training that our team goes through.”
Every employee is encouraged to speak up if they ever feel unsafe in a customer’s environment.
“We always need to be proactive in making sure that our team is safe,” Brink said.
In addition to following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for safety training, the commercial and industrial equipment provider offers its own series of training for all new employees that prepares them for many things they could encounter in their roles at various locations.
Riekes also has a series of safety training that was designed internally by some of its tenured long-term technicians, and it rewards other technicians for completing that series of training.
“Then we have training that not only goes to our team but also goes to the market,” Brink said. “That’s things like aerial lift operator training, forklift operator training and hoist and crane operator training that we make sure our team is properly certified, but we also offer that training to the public and to our customers.”
QLI, which specializes in post-acute rehabilitation and care for individuals with neurological injury diagnoses, has over 400 team members providing care to about 150 residents across their rehabilitation, summit, and assisted living campuses, according to Ash Bentley, coordinator of occupational health and safety.
“Keeping our residents, families and team members safe is a high priority at QLI, so we cast a wide net when it comes to planning for possible safety and emergency issues,” he said. “Our Safety Committee and Emergency Response Team meets regularly to update plans for responding to emergencies including adverse weather, natural disasters, fire, interruption of utilities and services, threats of violence, and armed intruder/active shooter situations.”
For example, QLI has partnered with the Omaha Metropolitan Healthcare Coalition (OMHCC) to participate in a simulated response to a hypothetical dirty bomb.
“It is challenging to try to foresee the unforeseeable, but these types of exercises help us grow our overall safety awareness and readiness,” Bentley said.
Safety From the Top Down
“Safety begins at the top,” said Don Birkentall, NSCN safety consultant/instructor. “The message of employee safety needs to come from the head of the company. When safety is important to the head of the company, it will be important to all management and employees below.”
For companies successful with safety protocols, presidents and CEOs drive the safety culture and hold directors, supervisors, and managers responsible for employee safety within their areas of responsibility. Company leaders routinely walk through workplaces to search for potential hazards and provide resources to have deficiencies corrected as quickly as possible.
“Safe workplaces train their employees to recognize potential hazards and how to prevent injury,” Birkentall said. “They give workers the knowledge and equipment to perform their jobs in a safe and productive manner.”
Brink said safety is ingrained in Riekes Equipment’s culture.
“All of our top leadership is very dedicated to safety and addressing concerns,” she said. “For any business to be successful, safety must come from all levels of the organization.”
The company has an active safety committee, which includes some of its directors and about a dozen employees who serve rotating terms. They visit sites to do walk-throughs to make sure everything is safe.
“They launch initiatives and track anytime there’s a near miss so we can eliminate that as a risk for us going forward,” Brink said. “That committee is key to making sure our safety is above that industry standard.”
Team members in all areas at QLI are encouraged to take an active role in safety.
“Safety is not about just following the rules,” Bentley said. “It is about taking actions to make sure that every team member goes home each day as safe and healthy as they were when they arrived. It’s truly a team effort.”
All new QLI team members participate in over six hours of training on emergency procedures and workplace safety during their first week of employment. Ongoing annual training for all team members includes reviews on emergency procedures, resident transfers, standard precautions, proper use of personal protective equipment, chemical safety and vehicle safety. Other department-specific annual training includes ladder safety, lock-out/tag-out electrical safety and safe injection practices.
“While some of the basic review material is presented in an online self-study format, our team members find the most valuable training time comes from hands-on exercises, drills, skill check-offs and interactive discussions,” Bentley said. “Additionally, all direct-care and most other team members in the company are adult CPR/AED certified and renew this certification every two years.”
Technology Keeping Employees Safe
“In the forklift space there’s a ton of innovative technology happening right now to keep people safe,” Brink said.
This includes operator assistance technology and impact technology, which allows the firm to monitor its fleet of trucks in order to identify areas of the operation that are heavily prone to forklift impacts as well as to identify people in the organization or topics that need to be trained because of what the company can see happening with its fleet.
“For instance, you [set the rule that] in this area I’m going to limit the speed of the fork truck, or I’m going to restrict the truck from this area of the warehouse because that’s where people are,” Brink said.
The operator assistance technologies provide real-time information that helps the company set up rules and guidelines on the vehicles so operators have a better awareness of conditions around them.
“We carry hundreds and hundreds of products, and I think you see safety equipment becoming more available and having more options all the time,” Brink said. “But the truck lifts specifically is an area of focus for us, and the technical products that are becoming available are a big piece of that. There are lots of things that you can do with industrial equipment now that can dramatically increase safety.”
QLI’s latest innovation has been the addition of hands-free mobile communication badges for its direct care teams.
“These badges help team members connect instantly with one another, which not only improves resident care, but also provides a platform to broadcast information quickly in the event of a security concern or emergency situation,” Bentley said. “We also recently added an improved web application that allows for HIPAA-compliant communication company-wide and within work teams. This is yet another way we can get information out quickly when needed to keep our team members and residents safe.”