When you have employees, there are definite benefits to focusing on safety in your company’s culture. If safety measures are defined and followed, employees feel more secure and are more productive. If your company receives few or no complaints, you have a smoother operating company with less aggravation and financial burden. Customers want you to handle their contracting work because you are supplying safety-savvy workers who can create a stable working environment.

Under the umbrella of safety-consciousness comes a wide range of subjects, such as disaster preparedness, emergency response and evacuation. How do you know where to start? Here is a logical guide to defining what safety is, what it encompasses, how a company can make its environment safe for its employees and contractors, and in what forms it comes in.

Others say safety is ...

In the workplace

An employer wants to provide a safe and healthy working environment so its employees aren’t killed, injured or become ill. A short list of self-explanatory safety concerns to consider for the workplace covers office environment safety, emergency response plans, security, first aid, freedom from workplace violence, access to ergonomically safe equipment, and sexual harassment policies.

On the job

Some areas in which to consider safety on the job site include crane operation, trenching and shoring, electrical, construction, driving hazards, hazardous materials, machine guarding, and potential for fires.

The next step is to move from defining what safety is for you, to actually making your environment safe. Once you know what is considered safe for your organization, there are options for putting your program into motion. To prevent some of these issues, workers can wear eye protection and personal protective equipment.

One way to involve everyone is to develop standards for employees and management to follow. Employees can plan the work, accept responsibility, work in teams and provide feedback about what is going on in the field.

Outside safety training

There are many private training options available. Life Safety Associates, a training company in San Jose, Calif., suggested the following for a small- to medium-sized company:

1. Guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now affects companies with two or more employees. (Note: In this article, OSHA refers to OSHA or Cal/OSHA.)

2. Under these guidelines, three plans are required: an injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP), a hazardous materials communication plan and an emergency response plan. They also request you put up OSHA notices/posters on company walls.

3. Keep two logs. One log documents all injuries and is sent to OSHA, and the other documents injuries for workers’ compensation.

4. Find a consultant in your industry to learn what is required, useful and normal in your business area.

According to Life Safety Associates, the question often asked by employers is, “What if I spend a lot of money doing safety training and my employees leave?” Life Safety’s answer to that is, “What if you don’t spend a lot of money doing safety training and your employees stay?”

Custom in-house or online safety training

Someone can come into your office and deliver safety training to your employees or you can offer employees access to online training, which can be a convenient and self-paced alternative.

Use standards-compliant hardware in installations

Electrical contractors can show their safety awareness by installing hardware that meets safety standards. For example, install a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacle in a building. GFCIs are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) and protect the kitchen, bathroom and outdoor receptacles from the shock that can occur when electricity and water meet. The GFCI will sense the short and shut down before causing a fire.

“Pass & Seymour invented the first GFCI in 1971 and is now improving its safety features with their latest model (1595W) to actually go beyond the 2006 requirements of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety standards for GFCIs,” said Bill Timmons, Pass & Seymour/Legrand, Syracuse, N.Y. “Pass & Seymour’s new GFCI is Federal Specification Underwriters Lab rated and exceeds UL surge requirements: It survives 100 times the required UL 3kA/6kV voltage surge test cycles.”

UL’s 2006 standard on GFCIs, UL 943, becomes effective July 28, 2006 and has two major changes:

1. The end of life requirement requires an audible or visual indication that a GFCI is not functional

2. The line load miswiring requirement denies power if it is miswired.

These features help the user understand how it works, how to recognize when the GFCI isn’t working and how to respond. The important point for the contractor is to know that these features are required by UL as of July 28, 2006. For more information on UL 943, go to www.comm-2000.com.

OSHA enforcement

OSHA does most of its enforcement though compliance. It regulates what is and what is not a potential hazard to employees and makes inspections to verify that workplaces are compliant. When a company registers for workers’ compensation, it falls into the area of industrial relations, which means OSHA becomes involved.

OSHA can help with consulting and education. Some states may have their own state OSHA organization that works with all sizes of businesses. These organizations issue regulations and guidelines to help employers and employees understand job safety and health requirements. They can follow this up by conducting workplace inspections. It is important to know what the OSHA rules are and what is required.

In California, there is an OSHA group dealing with small and medium businesses that will consult free of charge to answer your questions (see www.dir.ca.gov). Research on the group’s requirements is recommended first.

Develop an incentive program

A business can also design an in-house incentive program where employees receive regular reinforcement. Incentives should be based on the experience of other companies with successful programs. Company cultures are all different and, therefore, so are incentives. Once you’ve decided what behaviors you want to reward, break that down into specific behaviors with some meaningful incentives.

One way to know that employees will respond to the incentives offered is through a survey that asks what kind of rewards they want. Don’t forget to make the incentive fit the accomplishment and award it soon after the goal has been met.

Use safety-related publications and standards

You can purchase and distribute safety-related manuals to your employees. Go to the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Web site at www.necanet.org/store and click on “safety” under the Publications, Videos, Software heading for a list of CDs or manuals on types of workplace safety for the electrical industry. There are also OSHA-related materials available to you.

For information on what the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires for safe electrical work practices, see NFPA 70E “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace” 2004 (at www.nfpa.org). NFPA 70E is not a federal document—it is a consensus standard that shows the reader how to meet certain OSHA regulations.

Safety issues from a customer’s perspective

Some larger companies may require an electrical contractor go through his or her own safety training as part of the contract. That training might cover emergency preparedness, general safety or more specific issues such as lab safety. While you are bidding a job, you can use this opportune time to show your potential customer how your safety concerns are similar to theirs.

Another approach would be to extend your training philosophy to reach out to your customers. Since many customers have their own safety programs, it is extremely helpful to be able to support them with your program that is already in operation.

A benefit of having your own safety program is that you can show customers you are currently involved in an active program. You can gain the customer’s respect and attention by saving them the time and effort of training contractors from the very beginning of the project, because they already know how to work safely.

You can see there are many options for the contracting company to operate with safety in mind. It may be a major investment for company management, but it can cover a lot of bases—personal and regulatory.

Taking care of employees pays off for the company because there is less aggravation and less financial burden, employees feel more secure and safe, and employees are more productive.     EC

MICHELSON, president of Jackson, Calif.-based Business Communication Services and publisher of the BCS Reports, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards. Contact her at www.bcsreports.com or randm@volcano.net.