I am commonly asked what products we recommend for a variety of safety-related needs. Truth is, I like to answer that question with a question and that is, "Have you considered whether you can first eliminated the hazard altogether?".
Sometimes, it isn't possible and we must consider a personal protective equipment product.
Fall protection is a topic we focus on a lot a LowRisq and for good reason. In Construction, falls are the number one cause of fatalities. With that in mind, we thought we would provide our suggestions in a Best, Better, Good format (hey, sometimes we like to go backwards).
Keep in mind, the equipment referenced below is equipment we have found works well and checks many of the boxes that allow for safe use. Most important of any consideration is that the equipment is used, and used properly, in the first place.
Best: DBI/Sala ExoFit Nex
Why: Comfort, durability, extra features
This harness isn't cheap. Sometimes you get what you pay for and in this instance, that's true. The DBI/Sala ExoFit Nex harness is a best in class harness that provides all day comfort with a plethora of extra features that can make wearing a harness all day a bit more tolerable.
This harness should be considered for use by those who are required to wear a harness as a typical part of their job activities. Otherwise, the cost may not be quite justified.
Better: Palmer Safety Full Body Harness
Why: Nice blend of price, weight, and functionality
Depending on where you are in the country, the Palmer brand may not be a familiar one. However, rest assured, this harness is ANSI Z359 compliant and is well-made. The harness has extra padding on the belt and hip line as well as on the shoulders and also has belt-style attachments for the leg straps and belt itself.
This harness is a great option for those on more of a budget but still need to wear the harness for a longer period of time. It's also a great consideration if an organization needs to buy multiple quality harnesses at a time without completely breaking the bank.
Good: Guardian Fall Protection 1705 Velocity
Why: price, trusted manufacturer, side D-rings
Sometimes you just need a harness. It's not worn every day and it's an essential tool that is mostly going to stay in the trunk or office (properly inspected, of course!). If this is the way you typically use a harness, then this is.a good choice. Guardian is a known player in the fall protection business and their products typically perform very well.
As already mentioned, no matter the equipment you choose, the most important thing is that it is worn in the first place. Secondary to that is the consideration of whether it's the right equipment. Know your options, always consider the Hierarchy of Controls when approaching fall hazards, and choose the best tool for your particular situation.
I was recently reading through OSHA's news releases for May (yes, I do that) and a recent case caught my eye.
This was the headline:
U.S. Department of Labor Cites Steel Storage Tank Company
For Exposing Employees to Repeat Safety and Health Hazards
And after digging into the issue a bit more, it would appear that this company manufactures steel storage tanks and they were fined over $238,000 for the following:
OSHA cited Alexander Tank Company for 10 repeated and 12 serious safety and health violations, including failing to implement lockout/tagout procedures to prevent machines from unintentional startup, provide required machine guarding, and control permit-required confined space hazards while tanks were being welded. OSHA also cited the company for not providing employees with adequate respiratory and hearing protection.
So, no lockout/tagout, poor machine guarding, no confined space program, no respiratory protection or hearing protection. Big fine. Ouch.
I am not privy to the details of this situation so I won't speculate too much other than to wonder what the original cause was for OSHA going out there in the first place. That is, a lot of these types of inspections get sideways really quickly because of a lack of documentation, whether the employer did what they were supposed to do or not. In many instances, OSHA will show up to look at one thing and then because the company isn't prepared at all, you end up in a situation like this one. Best to know your options for an appeal and mitigation. As of this writing, it was not evident if they were going to request an informal conference or appeal to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. One would think that that would be the case.
And besides the financial penalty, the damage to the reputation could be devastating. But that is only if the folks with whom they do business with actually vet their trade partners...but that's a post for another day.
To circle back around, though, one of the reasons for LowRisq to come into being is to avoid exactly what happened to this company. The training they were deficient in is so easy to obtain, the written programs so easy to produce, and the record-keeping so easy to implement, it's just a shame. The LowRisq Safety Management Gateway solves all of these problems at a price that would buy about 30 years of uninterrupted service instead of that nasty fine, interrupted production, and damaged reputation.
I never thought I would spend as much time as I do talking about, and writing about, guardrails or, in many cases, the lack thereof. I mean, it seems we take them for granted so much of the time yet, once you spend as much time as I do trying to push them down (more about that in a second), you gain a keen awareness of their existence and suitability.
Think about them the next time you go on a hotel balcony 25 stories up or when you are at a rented beach house and there is a carefully constructed deck on the house. What about at a stadium? I wish we could go to one at this point. Thanks, Coronavirus. All around us are guardrails that, in most instances, keep us from toppling over to our certain doom and we don't give them a lot of thought.
I do, though. It's kind of annoying. But for my clients, I need them to be in place. They need to guard window openings and open edges on rooftops. Also, hoist areas, and hatches, and ramps, and scaffolds. They are everywhere. And not only do they need to be present, they need to be able to withstand OSHA's requirement of 200 pounds of minimum downward and outward force for the toprail (this is why I push on them but, of course, careful not to push them or myself off), 150 pounds for the midrail, and they must have a toe kick to prevent things from being, well, toe kicked over the side onto someone's head.
Guardrails are so much more effective than wearing a harness and a lanyard to stop from falling. If you are familiar with the Hierarchy of Controls (see below), guardrails are a few steps higher than PPE in effectiveness as they are located at the Engineering level, and it makes sense. If the edge at which one might fall over is guarded, they won't fall over unless they jump over, and that's an entire other issue altogether.
It's critical, therefore, that guardrails be considered when at all possible. It's even more critical, though, that if they are used, they are used properly and completely. One opening disrupts the entire system. Almost doesn't count.
So the next time you casually lean on a guardrail (I always do a little test before I do lest it give way), give a small shout out to its inanimate soul for keeping you on the right side of the edge. They are with us while the building is constructed and their more attractive selves are there when it's occupied, thus guarding us from gravity, too many cocktails, and that random trip. God speed, Guardrail. God speed.
Owner of LowRisq, by Pinnacle Safety Solutions and devotee of guardrails everywhere.
There are nearly infinite options when it comes to delivering safety training in higher hazard workplaces. From slickly produced training videos to in-person training whose effectiveness almost always solely depends on the effectiveness of the instructor (an instructor who drones on and on or constantly tells war stories is not as effective as one who does not, among other things).
Many times in an effort to check the box, the training format that is easiest to deliver is often chosen. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't, and employees don't retain anything or, worse, resent being there at all.
The key is to balance the need for ease of use and delivery with the human touch. How do we help those organizations that have far flung workforces the same way we are able to help that company that gathers everyone in one place for training? What about pre-training and follow up training? Has a training needs analysis even been conducted? The list goes on and on.
ANSI and ASSE developed Z490, Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training to address the questions above and more. It's a great document and can be of tremendous value as you build out your training offerings.
As this is a blog for a commercial company, it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge that we have a part to play in all of this as well. As with many things, properly training a workforce is a team effort. It's a people business (and if you have picked up anything from our writings, it would be the fact that we keep going back to that fact). The training delivery format has some flexibility in terms of in-person or digital as today's digital tools are so much better than they were and allow for immediate feedback in many cases. However, it's critical that there is appropriate follow up and reinforcement by the employee and management to evaluate progress, but also to give the training 'teeth'. Otherwise, an organization risks the training becoming nothing more than a rote exercise that takes away production and wastes time.
We at LowRisq focus on providing training that is easy to deliver with automated record-keeping. It's vital that these two components are present. We offer a variety of formats and strive to evaluate learning in each course. We offer opportunities for employee input and we are always asking for feedback. What we can't completely control, nor can any other trainer, is the employee's motivation to retain and use the learned information. This is where an effective safety management system comes into play. That is, a management system that understands each employee's motivation and strives to play to his or her strengths and strives to understand their weaknesses as well. The well-trained organization avoids a one size fits all mentality.
We support this, even if it might be at odds with our training offerings sometimes. What we want is effectiveness, and if we can provide all or just a piece of the training, then we are OK with that if the employee goes home at the end of the day.
Photo by Hal Gatewood
Yep, I said it. I guess it isn't really that provocative of a statement that safety is as much psychology as anything. But it's amazing how many safety directors, business owners, project managers, and whomever else you can think of don't make that connection. I always tell my clients safety is a PEOPLE BUSINESS before it's anything else.
So much great work has been accomplished in the last 20 years in the field of safety management. From theories of motivation to intense studies of cause and effect, acts, and conditions, academia has given safety practitioners a lot to think about.
What hasn't been as well communicated to business owners and organizations of all sizes and scopes are the varying motivational theories that might help them be more efficient. And while there are many theories to consider, the core of the concept is to match the understanding of an individual's motivation to achieving the desired outcome of the organization. I believe the safety management paradigm has failed to fully elucidate this in a way that is actionable for business owners and management to put into action to achieve their risk management goals.
Too many times, organizations will start with a plan to 'be safer'. Then come the meetings and then perhaps outside safety consultants (full disclosure: I've been one of them), new policies, procedures, and training...yet not a lot changes. And what does change is akin to the proverbial pulling of teeth.
Well, probably more than this post can cover, but one of the core root causes of failing to easily achieve the desired goal is not understanding employee motivation or, to a larger extent, employee psychology.
Management of all types can get so caught up in the amazing-ness of their organization that they forget the reason many folks come to work, and that's because they have to! Of course, not always is that the case but I think it's fair to say that, more often than not, it is.
These employees have bills to pay, children to support, spouses to hopefully get along with, speeding tickets, financial woes, substance abuse issues, political agendas, and the list goes on. To be sure, they have good things happening, too, but the challenging times are the ones that can distract the most.
When we think about these things and then consider that we are asking these employees to perhaps completely change their way of working, then it's no wonder that safety initiatives often fail. We have to remember the person!
What to do? It can be complicated. And anyone that says it can turnaround quickly is probably wrong on some level, though it's not impossible. Typically, though, culture change takes 1-5 years in an organization in my experience.
To make this timeframe skew to the shorter end of that timeframe, organizations must do AT LEAST the following:
1. Involve employees from the lowest level to the highest. Get their input and actually use it if it's applicable (if you don't, they'll know you didn't mean it). State the goals and then ask them how it can be done and agree on it. These goals are what progress will be measured against.
2. Train to what you expect and don't leave out management.
3. Get executive management buy-in. And they, too, have to mean it. If executive management doesn't walk the walk and talk the talk, then it's a large waste of time and money.
4. Inspect, follow-up, praise, and talk to employees on a human level. If something is wrong unless it's an imminent threat, talk to the person first and then address the hazard. You'd be amazed at how much better this can make a tough conversation.
5. Assign someone to fix any issues identified and ensure that they are indeed corrected. A surefire morale buster? Get employees involved and identifying issues and then they don't get corrected.
6. Solicit employee input again. What's working? What's not working? What ideas do they have?
7. Now that you have done the above, if you haven't already, consider a safety committee (be careful, though, these can absolutely NOT work if deployed incorrectly) or some other type of employee involvement at a higher level. Let them write the policies with management input and ultimate approval.
And keep going! Remember, person first and rules and regs second as much as possible. Employees need to know they are respected. Otherwise, you are going to be managing from a position of compliance rather than self-motivation, and that's a tough road.
According to Investopedia, overhead is any expense incurred to support the business while not being directly related to a specific product or service.
I've heard the word overhead used a lot in my career. I am sure many of us have. What I have found interesting, however, is the difference in overall effectiveness and profitability of businesses or organizations who use it one way versus those who use it another.
What do I mean?
Let's start with the not-so-good.
There are many ways that an organization's safety culture can be indirectly measured. One of those indirect observations I often make is if 'safety' is deemed overhead. One could argue that, in the truest sense of the word according to Investopedia's definition above, it is. But if you look further, those organizations that view safety as overhead are often correlated with a more overall negative safety culture atmosphere, negative views of safety, and an organization that implements safety through focusing only on compliance rather than people. Unfortunately, when this happens, it is often a self-fulfilling negative feedback loop that destines that organization to view safety management as a necessary evil and, even worse, safety items are one of the first that are value engineered out.
Conversely, savvier organizations understand that safety management is a tool to create safer employees, contractors, worksites, and profitability. They understand the need to manage their risk and integrate that risk management into the core of their operations. Safety to them is by definition, overhead, but by practice, it is a central tenet of taking care of their employees and their dollars. These organizations understand the potentially devastating impact a poor Experience Modification Factor, or e-Mod, can have on their business for years after the injuries occur.
It is no wonder, then, that while overhead as a business term can be defined, in practice, one's approach to it yields wildly different results.
If your business is at a point of decreasing or hard to find profitability, then ensuring your employees stay safe can decrease insurance premiums, improve productivity, improve safety reputation (an often overlooked component), and propel you to a better, more profitable workplace.
All of the above isn't necessarily a new idea, but I believe risk managers and safety professionals could do better to build the 'why' for the business case instead of focusing solely on the 'why' for compliance. Managing safety through compliance can work...to a point. Know what that point is. Business owners and managers, of course, need to know what their overhead is for accounting purposes. But they also need to know what it isn't for their management purposes. Understanding that difference can make all the difference.
The author recently leaving a field inspection.
LowRisq in its current iteration has been a long time in the making. We started Pinnacle Safety Solutions in 2005 when it wasn't, well, Pinnacle Safety Solutions, if that makes sense. It was primarily just Trey taking care of clients across a million different industries helping them manage safety for their employees. Training, site inspections, incident investigations, answering this question or dealing with that emergency. It all helped to hone real world field experiences. Over time Pinnacle Safety Solutions was incorporated and ideas to make safety and health management better began to emerge.
Fast forward to 2019 and the final preparation for LowRisq was realized and the product was launched. Except the thing is, it isn't really new.
We have been working with clients for what seems like forever and honing our ability to help democratize health and safety for all organizations that could really use the assistance. We have done our best to put all of the services we used for Pinnacle Safety Solutions into one place, and that's LowRisq.
While many companies focus on just providing a training records database or perhaps providing safety training, they all seemed to us at LowRisq to be overly complicated and not always applicable. This author only needed one experience implementing a very expensive and well-known EHS management software to realize that it could be done better and simpler.
What we deliver is the ability to save time and money managing safety and health for each organization we serve. We do our best to put the material where it's easy to retrieve and deliver. We do our best to have an easy to follow Roadmap that tells even the newest of businesses what they need to keep their employees safe and save a buck or two along the way in insurance premiums. We do our best to deliver relevant material in a real-world manner that employees can relate to. Not only do we endeavor to deliver our material, we endeavor to teach our clients the 'why' so that they can get the employee buy-in that is so critical, yet so elusive.
We believe safety is a people business and we also believe safety management is one of the often hidden keys to profitability. Master both of these and you're doing pretty darn good.
Some of the newest developments:
We've developed a training records database that each company can integrate to track their employee's training records. Easy to set up and use. And the information is the company's to keep forever.
We deliver video training that is mobile (if need be) and that is trackable so admins or management know who has completed the training. And we have 52 weekly toolbox talk safety meetings ready to print.
We have an inspection and safety observation app that anyone can use and that reports immediately back to the person responsible for getting issues fixed.
And we have an incident reporting app that is mobile. Reach out for more info. We don't want the word to get out completely just yet until it's copyrighted (we are in the risk management business after all).
I could go on and on, but the main point there is a new way to manage safety and health for small to mid-sized businesses and we want to share our vision and serve the best we can.