I was talking to a friend the other day who works in manufacturing for a decent sized company. He was complaining that his employer is no longer buying the steel-toed safety shoes he and his coworkers wear for their jobs.
“Because they are struggling financially, the company told us we could either buy our own boots or go without,” he said. “My boots are as important to me in my work as a fall-protection harness is to someone working on top of a building. Boots have been provided each year to all employees working in dangerous conditions. Why was it important enough for them to buy boots in the past, but not now?”
Of course knowing a little about this company and the situation they are in, I have some background. This company has historically purchased safety boots for its workers in certain departments. Because they traditionally paid this expense, they created an expectation with workers that this would be paid in the future. This company also provides work pants and shirts for field workers. In other words, by creating a belief among employees that safety boots were part of the uniform and important equipment to certain jobs, the company instilled this value with its employees. The workers still think the boots are important. As a matter-of-fact they know they are important. It only takes one worker to rip his foot apart by stepping on a sharp metal stake to know it’s important. It only takes one broken foot when a steel beam falls to know that the safety boot would have prevented that injury.
As more companies tighten their belts and try to find ways to cut expenses, some are finding ways to avoid providing basic safety prevention and protection equipment at the expense of their employees and their company’s reputation.
Maybe steel-toed boots aren’t important in your line of work, but what if you showed up to your job one day where you handle chemicals that should not be inhaled and the supervisor told you that because of budget constraints, the company could no longer afford to provide respirators for its workers? You can buy a respirator for yourself if you think you need one, but we just can’t afford to get one for you. Of course in this modern day, we assume Federal workplace safety standards will prevent this from happening to us, but we all know that some people operate on the “Act first / Get permission later” mentality.
Let’s hope none of you are in this situation. In every industry, we hear grumblings about “Big Brother” and how the laws and regulations enforced by the Occupational Safety Health Agency (OSHA) is expensive and meddlesome. The other side of that argument is that OSHA rules make the workplace safer for everyone and rules and regulations are necessary for those companies that would not otherwise choose to protect their own people.
One thing is certain; people are much safer on their jobs today than they were 40 or 50 years ago before OSHA was signed into law.
Workplace injuries and deaths have dropped 60 percent since OSHA was created, thanks in part to employees who care enough to demand a safe place to work and employers who listen and understand that keeping their employees safe is not only the responsible thing to do, but also the financially prudent thing to do.
Take a look around your jobsite and see if your safety program needs to be updated. Every worksite is different so the plan you create may be totally different from the one the business next door creates for its employees. To give you an idea of the types of areas you should address, consider this list of the ‘Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards” reported by OSHA in 2011. The list from 1 to 10:
• Fall protection
• Hazard communication
• Respiratory protection
• Electrical, wiring methods
• Powered industrial trucks
• Ladders (construction)
• Electrical, General requirements
• Machine guarding
As you can see, injuries can happen in many industries and in many different ways, but with proper planning, training and equipment, most injuries and deaths can be avoided.