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Living in the New World of Health & Safety Challenges

Martin B. Stern, Global Director, EHS, Colgate-Palmolive Company [NYSE: CL]

When you consider health & safety in today’s manufacturing world, the focus and priorities are challenging professionals to think and respond differently. If you cycle back 10-15 years ago, a health & safety professional concentrated on communicating and gaining support from senior leaders/C-Suite on reduction of accident rates – total recordable and lost workday case rates. In today’s industrial environment, we are seeing a shift in direction. In addition to ensuring a foundation of leadership commitment and shop floor culture / engagement, the companies leading the ‘new’ direction of the profession have shifted emphasis to reducing of serious incidents & fatalities (SIFs) and SIF potentials. These are incidents and accidents that have the potential to impact an individual both at work, and at home, altering the normal activities they are able to execute and enjoy. These accidents can include amputations, fractures, incidents requiring surgical intervention, or in the worse-case scenario, a fatal outcome. The approach pushes and challenges H&S professionals, engineering, operations, and maintenance teams to identify a deeper level of control when the incident is a SIF event or has SIF potential as an outcome. Historically the proverbial box was checked when an engineering solution was identified, but now with technology advances the hierarchy of controls are being leveraged differently –challenging teams to substitute or eliminate the SIF risk all together. Engineering controls are looked at as the ‘basement’ level control. No longer is it acceptable to utilize administrative and personal protective equipment controls when the outcome has SIF potential. It is imperative that any control strategy/system has the ability to fail safely and account for the fact that people make mistakes, errors.

There are numerous technology solutions that have evolved in recent years to help better align with the strategy to reduce SIF incidents. For example, every year in the US and globally, there are hundreds of worker fatalities resulting from falls from ladders or elevated heights. In the new SIF reduction model, one would ask the questions and challenge ‘why does the task need to be accomplished’ and ‘is there a way to eliminate the task altogether’ as your starting points. For working at heights, can the task be conducted remotely/control room? If the task is inspection-based, can a drone be used? If the task involves taking a reading from a gauge or meter, can it be relocated to ground level, so the height doesn’t factor as a risk any longer? Can fixed ladders on buildings, silos or tanks be replaced with work platforms or stairs? For portable ladders, can an alternative approach be utilized – scissors’ lift, JLG lift, portable platform/stairs? The same approach can be applied for tasks such as confined space entry, work on high voltage systems, or accessing systems with high risk outcome potential, e.g., highly hazardous processes. We need to challenge the traditional paradigms that have defined PPE, training, and standard operating procedures as sufficient to protect an employee performing a task that has SIF potential. It is incumbent on our sector to strive to identify higher levels of control – elimination, substitution, or engineering, when the outcome is SIF. We need to ensure our systems and controls are robust enough to protect a worker if an error is made by leveraging higher levels of control and ensuring our systems fail safely.

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