June is National Safety Month, an educational effort by the National Safety Council (NSC) to improve workplace safety and employee health. Every year, the NSC develops educational resources for each week of June, relating back to a central theme.
This year's theme is Safety Starts with Me. Each weekly topic - chosen to reflect leading workplace hazards in previous years - will include ways an individual employee can get the ball rolling to improve their workplace's handling of that specific issue.
Why wait? We've decided to break down the month's topics for you in advance, to raise awareness of these hazards in advance of the NSC's recommendations for further action. Focusing on just one of these issues in each of the next four weeks and improving employee awareness could save someone a trip to the hospital and avoid a costly lawsuit.
Week One: Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls
One of the leading causes of workplace injury is falling. This is a particular hazard for mechanics, as we often work in cramped spaces where oil and other lubricant spills are common. OSHA's statistics indicate that slips, trips, and falls cause the majority of workplace accidents and 15% of accidental deaths. Possible injuries in falls from standing height are sprains, fractures, back injuries, and fractures.
Fortunately, implementing a few common sense procedures can mitigate this hazard:
- Keep Traffic Areas Clear
Walk paths and stairs should be kept clear whenever practical. This obviously includes tool boxes, debris, and parts, but electrical cords and hoses are just as dangerous. To eliminate trip hazards from power cords and air hoses, provide outlets and ports convenient to work spaces, so that workers don't need to run them across designated traffic areas. Should it be necessary to run a cord or hose across the walk path temporarily, tape it securely to the floor.
- Clean and Contain Spills
Mechanical work involves oil, lubricants, and solvents which may present a slip hazard if left on the floor of the work space. Clean up spills as soon as is practical when they occur and provide non-slip mats and floor coverings for walking areas, should that prove necessary. Workers should wear slip-resistant footwear in the garage.
- Address Structural Hazards
Uneven floor surfaces- either holes or height transitions- are potential causes of trip injuries, as are open drains and pits. Ensure that uneven surfaces are repaired and floor openings either properly covered or protected by guardrails.
Week Two: Employee Wellness
Healthy bodies are more resistant to strain, injury, and illness. Initiating an employee wellness program pays off with more aware, productive, and resilient workers.
Old-school managers may raise an eyebrow at encouraging employee health and fitness, but the effects on the bottom line are undeniable. Prudential Insurance reported a $250 per worker reduction in benefit cost among participating employees after initiating an employee wellness program. Coca Cola realized double the savings despite a 60% participation rate. Workers who are in good shape, relaxed, and motivated don't get hurt as much and bounce back faster when they do; it's really that simple.
There is no one-size-fits-all, Acme Employee Wellness Program. Each one must be tailored to the individual needs of an employer and their workers. Talk to your insurance company about what they've seen work in your specific situation, then develop and implement similar programs in your workplace.
Week Three: Emergency Preparedness
How prepared are you in case of emergency? Do you even have a set understanding of which emergencies you're most likely to face? Identifying and planning for emergencies in advance is the best way to ensure everyone gets through safely.
To gauge your existing level of emergency preparedness, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you aware of which types of emergencies you're most likely to face?
- Have you developed and practiced targeted procedures to address these emergencies?
- Are workers able to communicate with each other and with emergency contacts?
- Do you maintain a list of tools, inventory, and essential equipment, for insurance purposes?
- Have you recently reviewed the terms of your insurance coverage?
- Are emergency shut-down procedures in place for equipment which cannot safely run unattended? (Boilers, automatic feeds, etc.)
If you answered no to any of these questions, you know what to do. There is no “later” in emergency preparedness, as you have no way of knowing when an emergency will occur. Do it today.
Week Four: Ergonomics
Sprains and strains are the most common workplace injury among mechanics. Paying attention to the ergonomics of your workplace and functions can prevent many of these injuries while increasing productivity and worker satisfaction.
Ergonomics, in this context, is a means for evaluating which workplace activities pose a risk of muscular or skeletal injury and altering those activities to prevent injury. Mechanical work involves several common risks for ergonomic injury, including awkward postures, heavy lifting, pushing, and pulling, and repetitive and stressful use of the hands and wrists. Vibration and cold are intensifying factors, familiar to mechanics everywhere. OSHA estimates that $1 in every $3 spent on worker's compensation results from insufficient attention to these hazards.
At the simplest level, an ergonomics program can consist of identifying and avoiding strain hazards, either though changing the manner in which a worker carries out the task or reducing demand on individual workers. Over the coming month, more targeted information on the implementation of ergonomics programs will be released by NSC and aligned agencies.
With National Safety Month's topic list in hand, start reviewing conditions at your garage or workplace. Where can you improve? Answering this question prepares you for an ongoing workplace safety discussion, alerting you as to what resources and techniques you should seek out to improve safety in your garage.
If there's something you handle particularly well, share it with us in the comments. Your experience may prevent someone else's injury.