Recently the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced a fine of $98,000 against a manufacturer in Sumas, Washington, due to lockout-tagout violations that resulted in a worker’s death. The employee was inside a tank, cleaning it, when an agitator arm turned on. According to L&I, the company, IKO Pacific, had written procedures for lockout-tagout (hazardous energy control) and confined space entry, which would have prevented the employee’s death if they had been followed. The company is appealing the citation.
Tips: This tragedy is a reminder that at any job site with safety hazards, we can’t get complacent. Every manager, supervisor, and employee should be on board when it comes to safety. Unfortunately, having a written program means nothing if it doesn’t translate to employer expectations, employee work practices, proper supervision, holding people accountable, and solid training on safety procedures. During an investigation, safety regulators will ask for documentation of employee training, but they focus just as much on finding out what employees actually do every day at the worksite.
A good way to validate whether a written procedure is being followed is to train your employees on the procedure and follow up with regularly scheduled observations, inspections, and audits. These may sound time-consuming, but don’t need to be.
An observation may be a walk-through of a scheduled job that requires entry into a confined space. During that observation, you may notice safe behaviors that adhere to the procedures, and you may also notice some unsafe behaviors.
Communicate those observations directly to the employee and to the job lead. This could be instantly and verbally (which is appropriate if you observe a violation), or it could be delayed and in writing (to communicate positive observations or to document the verbal corrections you already provided). Either way, it provides insight into whether your employees are following the safety rules.
You’re better off encouraging safe behavior on a regular basis than only focusing on the negative, unsafe behaviors. These walk-throughs give you the opportunity not only to correct problems but also to positively reinforce safe behavior.
When you identify an unsafe behavior that goes against a safety procedure, your communication holds employees accountable before they suffer an injury or fatality from their misstep.
Vigilant safety professionals are here to help support your safety efforts through proactive management of your safety program. We understand there is a lot to manage, so we have simple recommendations to help you stay in front of your employee’s safety practices in a way that benefits the company and all employees. In the end, it’s a win/win for everyone involved.