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Get out "where the action is" during walkthroughs
Mitigate the risks you see
Violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards may be occurring in plain sight, but someone has to go look in order to find them.
"You should never spend your whole day in the office. You should be out there where the action is, seeing what employees are doing," says Christine M. Kalina, MBA, MS, RN, FAAOHN, COHN-S/CM, director of global occupational health at MedImmune, a Gaithersburg, MD-based developer of formulations for use in immunization products.
Walkthroughs are the best way to identify and mitigate risks, she says.
"You can read accident reports, but that won't help you understand the environment in which these things take place," she says. "I can't emphasize enough how important this is."
ID unsafe practices
You may notice exposures you were previously unaware of or practices of employees that are unsafe. "This is one means to establish a stronger relationship with the employee, and also with environmental safety and health professionals," she notes.
By seeing what an employee does every day, you may identify specific return-to-work challenges for that person. Ideally, environmental health and safety and occupational health will collaborate on ways to reduce risks.
Health surveillance testing, such as hearing testing, is driven by compliance or regulations and safety, she explains. While doing hearing testing tells you whether the personal protective equipment (PPE) being used is effective, she says, in order to find out what areas require protection, and whether the employee is using the PPE correctly, you'll need to walk through the plant.
"You have to get out there and see what the employee is doing," says Kalina.
Do the following to get the most out of your walkthroughs:
Communicate clearly that a walkthrough benefits everyone.
Explain to employees that walkthroughs "greatly enhance the understanding of workplace hazardous risks," says Rod R. Hart, RN, COHN, manager of health promotion and wellness at ODS Health, a Portland, OR-based provider of health plans.
After your walkthrough, list three to five major hazards.
Hart says to then answer the following questions for each hazard: "What is the likelihood of exposure?" "How dangerous is the hazard?" "How many people are at risk?" and "How easy would it be to remediate?"
Do walkthroughs on different days and times.
"Gather first-hand observations, based on direct experience with the work environment," says Hart.
Talk to employees.
"Ask them what they see as the biggest risks in their job," says Kalina. By doing this, you may be able to suggest a better way of doing the job, such as preventing ergonomic injury with proper lifting, she notes.
If you have already established trust with employees, they won't see your comments as punitive, she says. "It's a way to raise the bar and say, 'Look, there's a better way to do this. If you don't wear your hearing protection, you are going to lose your hearing,'" she says.
For more information on safety walkthroughs, contact:
Christine M. Kalina, MBA, MS, RN, FAAOHN, COHN-S/CM, Director, Global Occupational Health, MedImmune, Gaithersburg, MD. Phone: (301) 398-2805. E-mail: email@example.com.
Rod R. Hart, RN, COHN, Manager of Health Promotion & Wellness, ODS Health, Portland, OR. Phone: (503) 219-3672. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"You should never spend your whole day in the office. You should be out there where the action is, seeing what employees are doing."