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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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Safety and Preparedness at Work

I'm sitting at my desk with another law enforcement officer's funeral playing on TV in the background. That makes six law enforcement officer funerals for those who died in the line of duty in our area in the last couple of months with a seventh coming up later this week or next week. Not good. This year has been a statistical anomaly considering that overall line of duty deaths for the entire county are at their lowest point (124 this year) since 1959. That's 124 total deaths for 2009 for the entire country with six concentrated within a two month span and in a two county area of our state. Which brings us to today's subject: preparedness at work.
Aside from law enforcement, people die at work with surprising regularity. Sometimes people die from natural causes while others die from accidents, random shootings, and targeted attacks. Some begin the process of dying at work (ie; a needle stick from a person who has AIDS or inhaling asbestos, etc) and this impacts their life and their lifespan in the future.
We often equate preparedness and safety precautions with our home because we are the ones who are responsible for safety in our homes yet we delegate this duty to our employers when we get to work. Don't assume that your workplace is safe just because you have OSHA hovering over your industry. Here's how to be prepared and safe at work:
  • Keep an emergency bag at work, just like you have a BOB at home. It should include a change of clothes, some food, water, and emergency supplies in case your building goes into lock down, you are snowed in, or you are otherwise unable to go home after work.
  • Use the safety gear that is the standard for your industry...and maybe consider going above and beyond. I remember when gloves weren't even used in hospital settings now medical professionals wouldn't think of touching a patient without them. I remember when bullet-proof vests were only used for SWAT teams and your average cop wouldn't have even considered wearing one. I remember when road workers wore their usual dark colored clothing while working in the middle of the freeway, now their clothing lights them up like big fluorescent banners. Safety gear comes about usually as a result of someone being killed or injured. Through a QA process it is determined that if Mr X had been doing/wearing/trained to Y, then he would still be in one piece.
  • Take training seriously. If you have ever been in the military, you will know that no matter what service you are talking about, EVERYONE drills. Continuously. The military figured out that a disaster or emergency situation is not the time that you want your people trying to figure out what to do. You want your people to train so often and so well that whether you have an emergency or not, your employees will be able to respond immediately, accurately, and efficiently. Good training and good drills will create this desired outcome.
  • Seek out safety and preparedness information at work. Some workplaces have an extremely high level of preparedness and safety for their facilities and their people. Other business have nothing. Find out what your employer has done in terms of workplace safety and preparedness and if you see areas where improvements can be made, volunteer to help out.
  • Teach others. If you see someone not following set rules or you see someone doing something that could be dangerous to themselves or others, say something. I'll never forget a story a friend of mine told me about a time he was piloting a commercial aircraft with a couple of hundred people aboard. He thought air traffic control had said to hold at a certain altitude, the co-pilot thought he heard the same thing, and a brand new, very junior officer thought he heard something else. He meekly brought this to the pilot's attention and ended up saving the flight from a mid-air crash.
  • Encourage a QA (quality assurance) process. After any negative incident, it is good practice to gather those involved along with management, the safety officer, etc. and review what happened. More often than not, the group will determine that there were things that could have been done that would have prevented or limited the impact of the incident. This is how policies get developed and implemented--see a problem, determine how to correct the problem in the future, write a policy to educate and enforce these changes.
  • Be aware of potential problems. If an employee is getting divorced and her soon to be ex is a psychopath on a good day, this is a sign that there could be some possible workplace violence issues. Take note and take precautions. If the parking garage is dark, dreary, and secluded, make sure the powers that be know about this potential area of risk and that steps are made to make it safer for everyone. If other things (location, type of business, etc) could cause potential problems (robbery in the case of a liquor store, random shootings from zealots with guns in the case of an abortion clinic), make sure that adequate safety precautions are take for the staff, facility, and clients.
  • Call in an expert if needed. If you oversee or work for a large organization, there is often a dedicated, trained staff to handle your workplace safety and preparedness needs, however if you have a small business, trying to have an untrained staff handle such important tasks may not be the way to go. If needed, don't hesitate to call in experts in the field of workplace safety and preparedness to help make sure your workplace is as safe and prepared as possible.
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