Safety programs work best by consulting workers. EHS expert Lori Siegelman of W&M Environmental tells how to involve employees to build safety programs.
Lori says a worker doing a task is the best person to ask about safety for that task. Dan Clark also asks Lori for her opinion of workers as safety observers.
In this 24 minute interview, hear how employees are reacting to OSHA’s HazCom 2012 standard on chemical labeling and SDS sheets.
Lori Siegelman, CIH, CSP, CHMM, MAC, is a Senior Consultant and Technical Director at W&M Environmental Group in Dallas, Texas.
Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Lori Siegelman: Provide some mechanism for accountability. So, employees need to know what they’re supposed to do and then not only what are they supposed to do, but know that they’re going to be held accountable for that.
Dan Clark: Don’t ignore employee input when planning workplace safety. The expert on the safety requirements of a particular job is the person who actually does that job every day.
Hi, I’m Dan. That’s the opinion of Lori Siegelman, a Senior Consultant based at W&M Environmental Group in Dallas, Texas. Hello Lori.
Lori: Hello. How are you?
Dan: Good, good. Thank you. You’re a Certified Industrial Hygienist, a Certified Safety Professional, a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and you know EHS management programs and systems inside and out.
Lori: Yes, well, I’ve been at this quite a while. So, you do collect certifications and knowledge and experience over many years.
Dan: I don’t think I could put that much data in my brain no matter how much time I had.
Dan: So, no matter if it’s industrial hygiene or hazardous materials management or EHS management, you can handle all of those topics.
Lori: We do. We have expertise in all of those different areas.
Dan: Do you get calls from companies that, mostly, are trying to plan ahead or that have just been stung by an OSHA inspection and they have to pass muster?
Lori: Unfortunately, the majority of our calls come from people who have experienced an OSHA inspection or a complaint investigation or it’s even worse than that. An attorney has recommended the client us call to help with some issue they’ve gotten in a little over their head.
Dan: Wow. I was hoping that companies would be planning ahead.
Dan: But it sounds like money talks and OSHA fines bite.
Lori: That, that is true, but we do have our fair share of companies that they want to do the right thing. They’ve lost their EHS manager and want help or the EHS manager comes on board and says “Hey, you know, I need help. We need additional support” and they call us. So we do have a fair amount of those type of calls as well.
Dan: Even with all this training that you or any professional has, you believe that the worker doing the job is the best safety resource for that job.
Lori: Absolutely! Yes, we have some clients that come to us to do task-hazard analysis or job-safety assessments because they want to be safe but they don’t have a good understanding of how integral the employee input is to it.
So, we can come and certainly facilitate that and give a lot of good ideas but it’s always most effective if we get the employee input — the employees actually doing that job is being analyzed or reviewed — rather than us just make assumptions on what the hazards and risks are.
Dan: To get that employee’s opinion or input on the safety for their particular position, do you — as the consultant — just come in and meet with them one-on-one?
Lori: Sometimes that’s the best way.
Lori: Often times, though, depending on the company and the the employee population, a lot of times employees become apprehensive. They feel as if maybe they’ve done something wrong or they’re being called out and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. So, it really depends on the atmosphere and the culture of the company that’s there to start with.
What I find works best is you get a group of employees, not just one employee. Maybe in a team type of environment and you start, perhaps, with team leads or foremen or supervisors and then follow on with the individual employees at their work locations. They see the supervisors and the higher-ups that are doing this and providing input. That lays the groundwork for a more … more freedom to speak their mind and point out hazards and risks.
Dan: But what about — if you have one of those meetings —what about those people that have been there the longest? “Oh, here comes the flavor-of-the-week safety program!” How do you engage them?
Lori: Yeah, that is one of the most challenging aspects of it. I think if you provide them with some respect and treat them as the knowledgeable person they are rather than just dictate to them “You’re going to do this” or “You’re going to participate in that.” Go to them as a valuable resource — like you’re respecting their opinion — and then they’ll more freely provide that opinion.
Dan: Well, I imagine that if you’re asking their opinion rather than telling them “what the plan is,” that they’re going to be more likely to cooperate.
Lori: Exactly, exactly. So then you’re taking advantage of their years of experience there and asking them for their input. And patience, I think, on the part of the upper management or if it’s a consultant coming in working with the employees, whomever. A little bit of patience to get past that initial fear of change that a more experienced or long-term employee might have.
Dan: Well, Lori, if we could, can we go through the actual implementation of a program?
Dan: What’s first?
Lori: Well, I think the first thing is to provide the employees —and this is all employees, managers, every level of employee from the line operator to the middle managers or however the organization is structured — provide some mechanism for accountability. Accountability is going to be key.
Regardless of what your safety program ends up being or what the rules are, as long as there’s some kind of accountability system. Whether that’s going to be managers, supervisors foremen walking through on a specific frequency — weekly, daily, monthly, whatever that is — checking to see if people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. So some accountability system.
And then if you’re accountable for things, you have to know what you’re accountable for. So, having specific rules in place, specific procedures in place and plans or whatever. So employees need to know what they’re supposed to do and then not only what are they supposed to do, but know that they’re going to be held accountable for that.
Dan: Well, when you say accountable, I get two words: “reward” and “punishment.” So are those included in that?
Lori: Yes and “reward” obviously is the most effective. If you reward those employees for doing the right thing or the things that they are supposed to be doing rather than punish those that don’t or punish for having the accident or whatever the case is. The “reward” piece of it is what we want to focus on.
Dan: Is that through public recognition, prizes or does it matter as long as it’s something?
Lori: I don’t think it really matters as long as it’s something. Of course, “reward” could be and should be if you’ve integrated the safety and environmental aspects into a person’s job description.
If it’s in their job description, it’s in their performance appraisal then. At one month or at three months or annually, your performance in your job is reviewed. So you’re accountable in that if you did perform as you were supposed to or you complied with all the rules, you went to all the training you were supposed to, you did your checklists. All of the different things for that job to be done safely, then you’re rewarded by a raise or a higher percentage raise than the person didn’t do all of those things or didn’t do all of those things as much as you did. Then they would not be rewarded or didn’t get as much of a percentage raise. So, that’s one thing.
And, of course, you could have prizes or for all of the employees that did not receive any type of infraction or weren’t observed doing any type of infraction, they followed all the rules, followed the SOPs [standard operating procedures] then maybe their name is put in the hat for a quarterly drawing for a prize.
So, you could do incentives as well and that’s a little more visible for other employees to say “Oh, hey, Joe got a TV in a raffle this month because all month long he followed the rules and his name was put in the hat.” So, I’ve seen that work pretty well.
Dan: Oh, OK. And beyond that, you also encourage the owners and managers to “go to the Gemba,” go where the action is and observe and be an example with their own safety behavior.
Lori: Yes, yes and I have seen this as well. A really good example of a senior manager — plant manager — on-site who really took safety to heart. He would walk out with the employees every day specifically for safety purposes.
He followed all of the rules, he wore the safety glasses. He talked to the employees and he would point out to the employees that, maybe, did not have their safety glasses on or they weren’t following a procedure specifically. Not to give them negative attention but just to say that — and show other employees that he was paying attention — he cared and he would stop production or the assembly line or whatever to make it safer.
So, he wasn’t afraid to stop production or interfere with an employee’s work as long as it was making them more safe.
Dan: And that takes a special touch to make the employees feel like they’re not being punished, necessarily, but rather that they are watching out for their best interests.
Lori: Yes, it does and actually I’ve not seen that very frequently, amazingly enough. You would think it would be fairly easy to do but it’s not. It’s not.You really, as a manager, have to make a concerted effort to walk through an area, especially if it’s production, high production assembly line environment where time is of the essence.
To take the time out of your day to do that is one thing. It takes a lot just to do that. But to be out there and to have the employees respect that you’re out there to not see it as a negative but rather as a positive.
Yes, it takes a very unique manager to do that.
Dan: Let’s talk about signs at workstations or work areas. You’re not a proponent of just generic signs that say “Work Safe!” What do you suggest?
Lori: Right. I do see those “Work Safe” signs quite a lot and if they’re changed out or very specific to the company or the tasks being conducted, I think there good. But so often I see the motivational, safety awareness type of sign and it’s put up and years later it’s the same sign that’s there and people then become blind to postings and signage.
So, if you could make it very specific and visual to the task at hand a think it’s much more effective and can be a good training tool. A good reminder to the employees in the area of whatever the message is being conveyed, whether that’s a procedure, a work instruction, a reminder that “here are our general work area rules that you are to abide by.” And then it helps visitors and it helps the managers walking through stay within the certain aisle or whatever the case was.
Dan: And you suggest that not be in just a binder in the safety manager’s office but it be distributed to each employee and then available at the work area.
Lori: Yes of course. If you’re a safety manager trying to make sure you have your personal protective equipment assessments done and your task hazard analysis assessments done. And they’re all nice and tidy in a binder on your shelf and so you’ve satisfied some regulatory requirement or company requirements to do these assessments, it doesn’t do anyone any good for them to be in a binder in an office if you don’t share those with the employees that are doing the job or the employees that need to have that information.
So I don’t suggest having so many different pieces of paper, posters and signage everywhere that people become blind to them. But if you can have enough in the work area posted or available in the work area where, however it makes sense, without plastering things everywhere that would be a good idea.
Dan: Maybe the ideal thing would be to have new posters every month or so.
Lori: Yes and that’s often done and very effective if you combine that with daily, weekly or monthly talks.
Lori: Some people refer to them as toolbox talks or they have a meeting every day to start the work shift or to kick off the work week. They talk about, maybe, some things that happened last week that you need to be aware of and safety related, quality related, production related. Kind of, combine the safety in with any kind of production talk that you’re having or instructions that you’re giving for that day or that shift that week.
And then you can combine that, maybe, with the poster or the signage that you’re putting up that week if you’re swapping something out.
So, you, kind of, combine that with current topics and it blends well with the whole production, quality theme that you have going on that week.
Dan: One of the big initiatives in safety is HazCom 2012, OSHA’s alignment with GHS labeling for chemicals.
Dan: It’s been rolling out for a couple of years now. How are your clients reacting to this new Hazard Communication Standard?
Lori: Well, I see a lot of your smaller to midsize companies that don’t necessarily have a dedicated safety manager, safety professional on staff that I isn’t aware of the new requirements. Or they’re aware of the new requirements and so they’ve, kind of, scrambled to get the safety data sheets put in place but maybe they haven’t trained their employees.
Lori: So there’s a lot of gaps that I’m seeing and especially in the smaller to midsized companies that don’t have that dedicated person or maybe they don’t have a corporate level person that’s feeding down to them.
So the employees, they’re busy working, working away and not really paying much attention to the labels or the posters or the safety data sheets. They just want to get the job done. So there’s a little bit of a gap there.
Dan: Are companies calling your company for help to let their employees know about this?
Lori: We are getting some calls. Yeah, I think it’s the onus on the company owners or the senior managers when they become aware of the changes. They’re calling our company and others like my company to come in and maybe do some employee training.
But what I recommended to them is a little more than just employee training and maybe some follow-up training and their workplace labeling that they have in place is outdated and they need to, of course, comply with the labeling requirements as well.
Dan: There’s one more deadline, June 1, 2016, as we’re recording this early in 2016. Are companies really relieved that this whole transition of chemical labeling is just about done?
Lori: Right, yes I have had that. Finally, all of the labeling is coming into place and it’s not half this type of label and half of it is that type of label. But they’ve still got quite a bit of work ahead of them in their existing inventory of chemicals that they have on hand just make sure everything’s consistent and labeled properly. But, yeah, they are very happy to see that the transition is coming to an end so they can, kind of, get on a consistent basis with the safety data sheets and the labeling and everything and move forward.
Dan: Good. I want to ask about safety observation versus just talking to employees at the onset of the safety program. OSHA urges employees to be safety observers in their VPP, they’re Voluntary Protection Program. Are the front-line workers also ongoing safety watchdogs?
Lori: Yes they are. They are, especially if you’ve got some employees that, maybe, there’s a language barrier or — you mentioned — the more experienced employees that have been on board longer compared to the newer employees that aren’t as aware of the rules or haven’t had as much experience.
So if you get these mix of employees and you have some employees that are observing and they observed the younger employee or any employee not following the rules or having some type of unsafe behavior, then if they can help educate and train the other employees that’s always best.
Dan: Some companies and safety managers worry about the quality of employee observations. They think about pencil whipping and things like that. Have you ever experienced the current problem?
Lori: I have seen that happen and it really is going to depend upon how the program is implemented and how well received it is by the employee population. And again, that gets back to the employee involvement. If you’ve involved the employees and obtained their feedback and they were part of the initiative to implement the observation program, I think you’re going to get better results. If it’s a program that’s being pushed down upon them with no prior involvement and no prior opportunity for them to give you feedback on it before you implement it or launch it, then you might have some pushback and you might have that pencil whipping going on.
Dan: What do you find is best for logging safety observations, the old-fashioned paper form or new technology — iPhone or computer?
Lori: Probably the old-fashioned paper form. If you have several workers out there, they’re not used to using phones or technology. The clients that I see most have a manufacturing environment where you have the employees out there, 50 to a hundred to 200 employees on the workplace floor. They’re just not set up to have the electronic checklist or computer-based forms to fill out at their convenience.
So, I think the old-fashioned paper form would work best.
Dan: It’s probably a generational difference too, I imagine. So, the young bucks that have an iPhone in their had when they come out of the womb, (laughs) you know, they’re more adept with electronics.
Lori: Right there may be that generational difference, you’re right. But mostly what I see, not even that. Not even the generational difference on a workplace floor where you’ve got manufacturing and machinery and things going on. Even if you have your young buck with a cell phone — normally in a manufacturing environment — isn’t going to be able to have cell phone out there on the production floor. If he does, it’s not something you want him paying a lot of attention to. Paper still might be best.
In some situations, obviously, if it’s different and cell phones won’t interfere with work and/or if it’s easier for them to fill out that electronically, then certainly that would work. But, I think primarily for the workplaces I’m used to seeing, a paper system would be better.
Dan: Yeah, a pencil, clipboard, a piece of paper right there near the workstation to fill it out.
Lori: Yeah, right. But as quickly as technology is changing, you know, tomorrow that might be a different answer.
Dan: Yeah. Can you suggest any good resources and maybe templates for starting a good safety program?
Lori: The best one that I’ve seen that has all of the different topics available and it’s geared toward new supervisors or new managers is The National Safety Council. They have a variety of tools. A lot of different training for this type of individual in a variety of formats. So, online training, written in a book format or in person, if you have that capability.
So, The National Safety Council, they have a really good supervisor training, a modular system that can be rolled out over a period of time to supervisors and managers and give them all the information and tools that they need.
Dan: Well, great. I’ll put the link to that in the transcript of this podcast. For those listening on iTunes, just go to our Safety Experts Talk website to be able to get that link.
And if people wanted to contact you at W&M Environmental Group, how do they contact you?
Lori: They can call our main number 972-516-0300 or they can go to our website WH-M.com.
Dan: What kind of company is calling you and how many employees, that type of thing?
Lori: Our client base generally is your small to medium-sized manufacturing company with 50 to a hundred employees. They either have a part-time safety manager who also was responsible for quality or some production or no dedicated person at all.
We also have quite a few companies that call us that are larger companies but just need some additional help with the more complex reporting aspects or fine-tuning their safety programs.
Dan: Do you do just a one-time initial set up or do you come in on a periodic basis — quarterly, monthly — something like that?
Lori: We do both. We offer a range of services from a one-off. Come in, do an applicability or a higher-level audit, make sure they have programs put in place that they’re supposed to have. Help them fill any gaps they have and then we go on our way.
We have other clients that we provide regular, two or three days-a-week service that we are their ESH manager. We’re there on-site two to three days a week or once every couple of weeks. Whatever the necessity is there.
Dan: OK Lori. Any final thoughts on building safety programs with employee input?
Lori: The only thing I can’t stress enough is the employee authority to stop-work if they feel unsafe and respect to the employees that they feel that they’re part of a team rather than being dictated to and their feedback is important.
Dan: So, stop-work authority brings respect and not punishment.
Dan: Excellent. Well, thank you very much Lori, I appreciate your time today.
Lori: Sure. Thank you.
Dan: Our guest has been Lori Siegelman, CIH, CSP, CHMM and Senior Consultant based at W&M Environmental Group in Dallas, Texas. Thanks again, Lori!
Lori: OK thank you, I appreciate it.
Dan: I’m Dan Clark.
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Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Lori Siegelman photos © ℗ 2016 W&M Environmental Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved; Forklift image by U.S. Department Of Energy