I recently read an article about a field researcher doing studies about tribal healers. This researcher tried to accelerate his learning process but his teacher, one of the tribal healers, had a very different viewpoint and insisted on teaching at a slower pace. He would say to the researcher, “You are always in such a hurry. It takes time to learn these things. I’m building for you a foundation and we need to make sure it’s as solid as the ground. It takes time to build a good foundation. Always remember that you cannot walk where there is no ground.”
Those words got me thinking about how important it for a company to provide good safety support systems for their employees and for employees to learn and use those systems. This helps to build a solid foundation for workers to “stand on” when they perform their daily work operations.
What are safety support systems?
A company’s formal programs, policies, and procedures are the support systems that help keep workers safe. The base support systems are:
- safety programs/policies/procedures
- safety training programs
- JSAs, safe work planning sessions
- stop work authority
- a purchasing department with knowledge about occupational safety
These systems are an essential part of a company’s safety initiatives. They provide a roadmap for day-to-day safe work operations, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, give guidance for good decision making, and help streamline work processes. To provide adequate safety support to workers, employers should:
- create and maintain safety programs for all the work operations performed
- develop practical policies and procedures for all the job tasks done by the company
- communicate these programs, policies, and procedures to all employees
- provide adequate, job-specific safety training to all employees
- perform effective JSAs or safe work planning sessions daily prior to beginning work operations
- evaluate work environments on a regular basis to identify unsafe conditions or behaviors
- grant employees stop work authority and allow them to use it if they feel they are working in or being exposed to hazardous work conditions
- foster a purchasing department that is knowledgeable about the safety factors of the tools, equipment, and material they are acquiring
A purchasing department can help support a company’s safety performance by ensuring the right equipment is purchased for the work operations taking place. If a purchaser buys a ladder that is too short or a forklift man basket that doesn’t have a gate, it allows workers to use inadequate equipment that could potentially be a factor in an incident.
What is the employee’s role in utilizing safety support systems?
Employees can’t follow policies, programs, and procedures they don’t know. They should learn the company policies and procedures. They should also make it a point to read the company safety programs, listen in on safety training sessions and toolbox talks, and attend safety meetings. They should pay attention in JSA and safe work planning sessions. There is valuable information in all of these resources, and employees need to understand the importance of using it when performing work tasks, and asking questions on anything they don’t understand. Managers, supervisors, and safety representatives should also be open to employees’ input on whether the company’s safety support systems are practical and useful.
After learning all the information that make up the systems, employees should use it to help identify any abnormal factors, hazards, unsafe conditions and behaviors present or taking place during work operations. Employees have stop work authority, and should use it to address situations that could cause incidents.
Maritime operations involve work that could potentially be harmful if not performed safely. Every action, every decision, every motion employees make can potentially have serious or long-lasting effects on their life. Each individual person is truly responsible for their own safety and health and employees should be sure to take the proper actions to protect themselves while at work.
By definition, a foundation is part of a structural system that supports and anchors the superstructure of a building. A company’s safety support systems are the foundation employees stand on and the ground they walk on to keep them safe while working. If they don’t know the policies, procedures, programs, and guidelines that make up the safety support systems at your company, they won’t know the proper actions to take to stay safe while working. Remember, you cannot walk where there is no ground.