Don't overlook key steps in the safety process

Having a clear plan with executive management and safeguarding yourself against potential hazards for both the short- and long-term is vital


What am I missing in my safety program?

If you think about it too hard, it’s one of those questions that can keep you awake at night. What am I missing in my safety program? Many companies would answer this question by looking at their machines and making sure that all the safeguards are in place. The answer, however, isn’t in the factory—it’s most likely in the corporate offices.

But where does it start? Safety starts at the top and filters down. In a successful program, everyone’s involved. In the most successful companies, safety is a separate item on the agenda for meetings of the board of directors. It’s that important.

First and foremost it’s important to have a clear plan with buy-in from executive management to assess all hazards and a commitment to safeguard (reduce the risk) for each hazard per the plan. This can and should be a long-term plan with milestones and budgets agreed to by the “top brass.” It should have approval for the necessary funding. Without these simple steps, you end up with an environmental health and safety (EH&S) person at the corporate level who is frustrated because he cannot get done what he knows needs to be done.

After management buy-in, from the perspective of the EH&S professional, the following often-overlooked information and processes need to be understood and implemented for a complete and lasting solution: 

  • Risk assessment process—always the beginning of the solution for a safe factory
  • Understanding of the hierarchy of controls (engineered solutions vs. administrative solutions)
  • Understanding of safety circuit design (including practicality, cost, etc.)
  • Identification and application of pertinent regulations (OSHA), standards (ANSI, NFPA, etc.), or directives (machinery directive, plant/corporate standards, etc.)
  • Determination of an internal acceptance of “acceptable (tolerable) risk” (including the difference between being “compliant” and being “safe”)
  • Stakeholder (operations, production, maintenance, etc.) feedback and buy-in for all remediation plans
  • Qualified remediation experts (either in-house or third-party)
  • Understanding of cost vs. value (cheaper usually isn't better)
  • Complete lifecycle review process (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust)
  • Administrative controls (training, documentation, supervision, maintenance, etc.) to maintain safeguarding solutions and practices.  

Whether you tackle these steps with internal resources or hire outside experts to handle your machine safeguarding, if you understand these points—and get executive support and buy-in—you are well on your way to a safer, more efficient factory. 

John Peabody is vice president of business development for Omron Automation and Safety, Fremont, Calif.

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