Safety From Scratch: Creating a Comprehensive and Effective Safety Program

0519 Safety
Photo credit: Shutterstock / Vectortatu / Kostsov

Safety is a critical component of every work environment, especially in the electrical industry. Every year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) most-documented injuries, illnesses and deaths involve electricity. In this field, hazards encountered daily can be fatal. As a result, it is imperative for all employers to have a comprehensive safety program in place.

By providing information addressing companywide conduct, each safety program’s goal is to prevent accidents, injuries and damage to property or the environment. Effective safety-related work practices and principles must be integrated into the design, planning and installation of electrical work. However, cultural differences and other distractions that are not in the best interest of employees or employers often challenge the implementation of safety programs and safe work practices.

It is important that employers and employees understand they share the responsibility for job-site safety and that exercising safe work practices is not optional. One of the best ways to overcome differences and distractions and achieve a safe work environment is to have a trained and qualified workforce. This knowledge and agreement of responsibility provides a foundation for a safety program.

With such a foundation, an effective safety program can address all potential work hazards, which is important for compliance as well as safety. Consider, while OSHA establishes hazard-specific regulations for employers, the original OSH Act of 1970 places comprehensive safety responsibility on employers through what has become known as the General Duty Clause: “5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Accomplishing this effectively and efficiently involves a range of responsibilities that different individuals within the company must take on. It begins with management, which is responsible for providing the time, resources and authority needed to develop and execute the safety program.

Next is the company safety professional (either a safety director or anyone willing and able to manage those tasks) who monitors policy and procedure implementation and enforcement. The responsible person will need to ensure compliance with requirements set forth by federal, state and local regulations.

These tasks include providing or coordinating on-going safety training, maintaining all records and documents associated with the safety program, generating all required reports, and conducting accident and incident investigations.

Next is the job site or direct supervisor. They should play a role in evaluating, inspecting and monitoring assigned work areas. If OSHA requires a “competent person” for a given task, the supervisor will need to have the appropriate knowledge and skills to take corrective action. If not, procedures must be in place to grant authority to someone else on the job.

Employees must also participate in the program for it to be effective. In fact, under OSH Act 5(b), “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.” Along with that, employees need to follow all health and safety policies and procedures in the company safety program. Following the rules and regulations includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and attending all safety training. Training ensures employees are aware of the hazards and can report any issues to their supervisor for correction.

Finally, management must be involved and lead by example. They should review job-site safety reports and incident investigations. While on the job site, they need to follow the same policies, procedures and rules established for other employees. Leading by example is critical to creating a positive safety culture.

For more on this subject, NECA’s Safety Manual (5030 RK-18) PowerPoint and digital resource kit is an excellent tool for building your program. It’s available at www.necanet.org/store/product/neca-safety-manual. OSHA’s website also has an abundance of safety training tools. And, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, provides extremely helpful industry-specific guidelines and safe work practices that can and should be included in any safety program.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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