Designing and Implementing a Workplace Safety Program

A well-thought out and implemented workplace safety training program has benefits far beyond a reduction in workplace injuries. With fewer injuries comes fewer worker’s compensation claims, meaning less paperwork and lower insurance premiums. Worker morale improves in a safe environment and workplace productive increases.

These are all excellent reasons for establishing your own training program, even without the many legal reasons for doing so. Building a program from scratch, however, can seem overwhelming. While it requires a significant time commitment, creating a safety training program follows the same simple steps whether you’re work environment is a small manufacturing plant, a software developing company, or a large construction site.

Determine Your Needs
Safety training doesn’t negate all workplace hazards. If fact, some safety threats cannot be addressed with training. Your first task, then, is to determine the cause of your workplace safety issues.

Training is the best solution when accidents can be traced to employees lacking knowledge of safety procedures and equipment usage. If accidents occur due to a physical flaw in the work environment, training is less likely make a difference. Instead, alterations to the physical environment may solve your problem.

Lack of motivation and employee attitudes can also contribute to accidents. To combat these issues, a shift in workplace culture is needed. Training can be part of that shift, but the larger issues causing your employees’ negative outlooks will need to be addressed.

The Job Hazard Analysis
Training must accurately address the specific threats your employees face. A job hazard analysis is the best method of determining these threats and any gaps in employee knowledge employees have related to specific tasks.

Job hazard analysis documents every step in every task your employees complete, identifying all possible hazards at each step towards task completion. The resulting document or spreadsheet provides a valuable foundation for safety training, clearly showing where employees have safety issues or knowledge gaps—gaps you can prioritize in your safety training.

Completing a job hazard analysis has another advantage: it introduces your employees to your new culture of safety. Involve workers in the process. Ask them questions, and listen to their safety concerns. Keeping employees motivated and interested is a vital part of any safety training program.

Developing Training Materials
How you present training materials—and indeed the form such training takes—depends on your workplace, your employees, and the type of safety issues you face. If you’re training a construction crew on the proper use of fall protection, your training materials might assume a large audience. Reviewing the proper steps for use of a highly specific piece of equipment, in contrast, may require one-on-one training.

Who presents the training is also an issue. For relatively simple procedures, you or your company’s supervisors may be perfectly capable instructors. In other cases, outside instructors may be a better choice.

No matter what type of material and presentation methods you choose, training should apply to specific jobs or circumstances, using lessons that mirror the step-by-step nature of the job process being reviewed.

The best training includes opportunity for employers to demonstrate and practice safety skills during and after training. Providing an overview at the end of training helps employees retain information.

Training Sessions
At this stage, you can schedule training sessions. Whether you run training in-house or hire outside consultants, be clear about the following facts:

• Your workplace has a zero incident goal. Suggesting anything else leaves your workers with the belief you consider some accidents (and the pain they cause) “acceptable losses.”
• Safety is everyone’s concern. The more you get employees involved in the process, the more likely training will translate into a safer worksite.
• Employees are as responsible for safety as management. For instance, your responsibilities may include purchasing personal protective equipment and training employees in their use. It is the responsibility of the individual employee to wear that protection.

As noted above, present information in an organized manner clearly related to employee tasks. When possible, provide real-life examples. Encourage discussion and participation during and after training, and follow up in the coming days to reinforce new skills and information.

Evaluate Your Results
Determining how effective training was can be accomplished in a number of ways. In the days following training sessions, ask employees for feedback, either through discussions or a short survey.

Periodically check in with supervisors and ask if employee behavior changed after training. Supervisors are often the first to notice any positive outcome. The ultimate test of training success, however, can be found in long-term safety data. If incident rates or “near miss” reports drop, your training has been successful.

Continuous Improvement
Whether or not your initial training resulted in positive change, you’ll need to update and change your training program in response to new developments. Safety is not static—new employees, changes in equipment, and other variables can change how and when you train.

Revisit your safety program often. Was the training effective? Could you improve the program with changes to presentations or teaching techniques? Return to your job hazard analysis and look for gaps in the training, filling them in as you discover them. Your safety program will change over time, but once you have one in place, it’s only a matter of fine-tuning the process.

A culture of safety doesn’t develop overnight, but with careful analysis, employee involvement, and an eye to avoiding problems before they happen, you can keep your workplace as accident-free as possible.

Understanding Work-Related Hearing Loss

Understanding Work-Related Hearing Loss

Hearing is a gift most people accept without question. And because we take them for granted, we rarely realize how badly we abuse our eardrums. Until, that is, they no long work as well as they once did.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), twenty-two million American workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise levels every year. In 2007, approximately 23,000 new cases of noise-related workplace injuries resulted in hearing impairment. Eighty-two percent of such cases were in the manufacturing industry, but excessive noise is a common complaint across multiple industries.

Traumatic noise accounts for only a small number of hearing injuries. More often, the damage is a gradual event, developing over extended contact with high decibel levels. The most damage occurs in the first decade of exposure, so new workers are especially vulnerable to hearing loss.

How Much is too Much?

NIOSH recommends limiting work-related noise exposure no more than eighty-five decibels for eight hours. The louder the noise, the less time your workers should be exposed to it. As a general rule, for every three decibels over eighty-five, half the amount of maximum exposure time. The US Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines are given below:

Decibel Level Maximum Exposure, in Hours
90 dB 8 hrs.
92 dB 6 hrs.
95 dB 4 hrs.
97 dB 3 hrs.
100 dB 2 hrs.
102 dB 1.5 hrs.
110 dB 0.5 hrs.
115 dB or more 0.25 hrs. or less.

Decibel Examples

Simply listing decibel levels doesn’t provide much frame of reference for most people. The following are real-life work examples:

  • Normal Conversation: 55 dB
  • Newspaper press: 95 dB
  • Hand drill: 98 dB
  • Textile loom: 103 dB
  • Pneumatic chipper (at a distance of three feet): 115 dB
  • Hand-held circular saw (at a distance of three feet): 115 dB
  • Sandblasting: 115 dB
  • Pneumatic riveter (at a distance of four feet): 125 dB
  • Jet engine (at 100’): 140 dB.

Physical pain produced by noise begins at levels of 125 dB. At levels in excess of 140 dB, even short-term exposure causes permanent hearing impairment.

Preventing Hearing Loss

As with most safety issues, prevention is by far the most effective means of dealing with excessive noise levels. Ideally, the threat can be neutralized through engineering or administrative changes. This often proves impractical, however, so some type of hearing protection is usually required.

Once a noise source is identified, it’s important to measure the decibel level. You’ll need this information to determine which ear protection product is most appropriate for the environment. In terms of the type of ear protection, you have three basic choices:

  • Earplugs may be premolded or made from moldable foam, and block the ear canal. Cheap and economical, ear plugs are available in both disposable and reusable styles.
  • Semi-Insert Earplugs are made of two plugs held over the end of the ears by a rigid headband.
  • Ear Muffs are made of sound dampening materials. The inner material is a soft cushion fitted around the ear, supported by hard outer shells, and held together by a headband. Note: radio headsets are not a substitute for ear muffs.

Employees must be educated in the proper and consistent use of hearing protection. Ill-fitting protection, or protection only worn part-time, will be of greatly reduced effectiveness.

All hearing protection is given a noise reduction rating (NRR) by the manufacturer. An item’s NRR is determined under controlled lab conditions. When choosing hearing protection for real world applications, NIOSH recommends subtracting the following rates from NRRs:

  • Ear Muffs: subtract 25 percent
  • Formable earplugs: subtract 50 percent
  • All other earplugs: subtract 70 percent.

Working with these reduced NRRs gives you a more conservative notion of the product’s ability to protect hearing, which takes into account variations in noise levels throughout the work day.