Make Your Company Defendable Against Safety Failings

Industrial Safety Strategies. Do You Have a Plan?

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Often, when people think of the cost of work-related injuries, they think of the fines imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That may indeed be a sizable chunk of money, but it doesn't compare to the other costs and collateral damage caused by slips in safety.

Rich Gibson, account manager for ABB/Jokab Safety, spoke Thursday at ABB Automation and Power World in Orlando about the need to plan a safety strategy. Particularly in this age of certain lawsuits and ongoing financial concerns, it's more important than ever to make your company defendable with regard to machine safety.

People don't think enough about the true cost of a work-related injury, Gibson said. In one example, a company was recently charged an OSHA fine of more than $7 million. "That's substantial, but it's not even half of what it's going to cost them," he said. Other costs include hospital stays and other medical bills, worker compensation benefits, loss of an experienced operator, production downtime, increased insurance rates, potential lawsuits, and the list goes on and on.

And that says nothing about the loss of reputation when you have to tell your customer that parts won't be ready on time, or the loss of employee morale when they no longer feel they're working in a safe environment, Gibson added. "The overall cost of an accident is huge. The OSHA fine is a small portion of it. And it all becomes public. Everyone sees it."

The point: Every manufacturer needs to have in a safety plan in place—what Gibson calls a stew. "Everything going into it is a measurable ingredient," he said: knowledge, risk assessment, team and culture, consultation, safeguarding, training, manuals, procedures and technology solutions.

Too often the safety plan involves running in a panic to the nearest exit, Gibson quipped. He referenced a common culture that uses warnings and discipline as its motivator. But the typical sign showing how many days it's been since the last accident usually only serves to scare people. You would never see that kind of sign on an airplane or an amusement park ride or a high-rise building elevator, Gibson said, so why is it acceptable on a plant floor?

"You can only take it so far with rules, and posting policies on the wall. It only goes so far," Gibson said. "You will not reach the goals you need unless you do the cultural change."

Getting the cultural change requires the buy-in of employees. Gibson identified three types of safety leadership: the boss, who says "Get out now!"; the persuader, who tries to talk people into making a safety change; and the educator, who explains why the process change is necessary. It is the educator who creates the buy-in, Gibson said.

A good place to start a safety plan is with a risk assessment—looking at the big picture before getting down to the nitty-gritty. Such an assessment should be a team effort because one person would bring his own bias to the project. There are also several different risk assessment methods that can help, as outlined in ANSI B11.0-2010, ISO 14121-1:2007, or more specific standards such as ANSI/PMMI B155.1-2006 and ANSI/RIA R15.06-1999.

It's important to understand what the applicable regulations and standards are, but Gibson emphasized that meeting the minimum criteria is not enough. "We meet the minimum requirements and we think we've done a good job," Gibson marveled, likening such behavior to rewarding a child for getting a barely passing grade on her spelling test. "We go above and beyond. We strive to do better."

Going beyond minimum standards also means thinking globally—meeting the highest regional standard rather than designing different machines for different regions. Gibson alluded several times to having to defend your safety decisions presumably in the face of a lawsuit; in other words, making your company defendable. For the case in which you add a safety component on the European version of your machine because it's required, but not on the North American version, Gibson asked, "What if there's an accident? How do you explain that to the judge?" How does somebody explain, he asked, how they valued the safety of one region more than the safety of another?

Gibson had audience members picture standing in front of that judge again because they've opted to put in place safety policies developed in-house rather than those developed by an organization like ANSI. The fact that the standards are voluntary likely won't fly in a court. "That standard was written by 50 industry experts within your industry. It took them five years to do it. Then it was voted on by 500 members in the ANSI organization. And then it was proofed and edited by almost 5,000 ANSI support personnel. But you decided yours was more important? Is it required by law? No. Is it best practice? Yes, it is."

Ultimately, zero risk cannot be achieved, Gibson conceded. "There's risk in everything. You can't eliminate every single risk," he said. "But you must make it to a tolerable level; as long as it is tolerable and it's communicated. This is the biggest one. We've got to make sure everybody knows this." Risk and residual risk should be communicated through manuals, safety and machine training, awareness means, labels, and work instructions.

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