Plant Safety – Avoid Pitfalls of New and Untrained Plant Employees

Author: Gerry Ward, Plant Engineering and Maintenance
Posted 09/06/2004

There’s a comparison that can be made of new licenced drivers stepping behind the wheel of a vehicle and that of new employees making his/her way into the workforce for the first time. Unfortunately, the same standard of competency and training isn’t applied.

Some progressive companies take the time to ensure new workers are fully trained, certified and are able to function in a safe environment. On the other hand, however, many organizations don’t see the safety “big picture.”

From a front-line supervisor’s perspective, new and untrained employees can cultivate numerous problems in the plant. For example, absenteeism will become rampant. This usually puts undo stress on co-workers.

Staff turnover is another concern for supervisors, as they may end up having to spend the majority of their time training a constant flow of new employees on job specifics. Through this process, health and safety issues often take a back seat.

For management, new and untrained employees present a different set of costly challenges. For example, productivity will drop due to lost time, there may be overtime expenses, insurance costs will rise and there can be potential lost customer sales. Worker’s compensation claims will also increase and lead to higher premiums.

How can these problems be avoided? What are some steps that can be put in place to help alleviate these concerns for new and untrained workers already in the workforce? Ideally, health and safety programs that offer basic training will fit the bill quite nicely. New and untrained workers need to learn about personal protective equipment (PPE), back-injury prevention, health and safety regulations and hazard recognition.

Health and safety components
• Personal protective equipment: The purpose of PPE is to shield or isolate individuals from chemical, physical and biological hazards that may be encountered at a hazardous work site when engineering and administrative controls aren’t feasible to control exposures. This must be the last option for worker protection, as PPE doesn’t reduce potential hazards at their source.

Careful selection and use of adequate PPE should protect a person’s respiratory system, skin, eyes, ears, face, hands, feet and head. Examples are steel-toed footwear, work gloves, work coveralls, hard hats, eye glasses/goggles, ear plugs, fall protection and respirators.

• Back-injury prevention: Almost 90 percent of Canadians will experience some form of back pain in their life. Back injuries cost American employers an estimated U.S.$10 billion per year. This is a staggering statistic that companies can’t ignore.

Back-injury training increases the awareness about back care and develops a positive attitude towards proper back maintenance. This is achieved by learning more about back anatomy, as well as common back injuries.

Instruction should include proper posture, lifting techniques and stress the importance of good body mechanics. A detailed program will also show workers proper back-muscle stretching and strengthening exercises.

• Health and safety regulations: Employees must learn that they’ve got the right to refuse unsafe work. This doesn’t put all the responsibility solely on the shoulders of employers, as both employers and employees have an obligation to ensure a safe workplace.

New employees should be aware of the meaning of due diligence and importance of its practice. “Due diligence is the level of judgment, care, prudence, determination and activity that a person would reasonably be expected to do under particular circumstances.” (Work Place Health and Safety, Alberta Human Resources and Employment bulletin-L1015).

Health and safety committees
Through legislation, workers will also learn how health and safety committees promote awareness and interest within the company. The committee identifies and helps solve safety concerns.

• Hazard recognition: A hazard is the potential of an activity, material or process that could result in injury to workers, damage to equipment, structure or property or degradation of the function of the process. A hazard raises significant risk of bodily harm to employees.

Workers must be aware of all potential hazards in their workplace and how to protect themselves. This will help them effectively eliminate costly industrial workplace hazards.

In an ideal world, these health and safety training initiatives should begin as soon as high school students start applying for part-time work at the local fast-food restaurant, in a plant, warehouse or store. It’s important to engrain a safe working attitude at a young age.

Looking to the future, these young workers will carry a safety consciousness with them through their entire work life. This will lead to a safer workplace, reduced accidents and improved performance.

Based in Golder’s Edmonton, AB, office, Gerry Ward is manager of training services. For more information call (780) 413-6730. You can also visit www.golder.com.

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