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Employee safety training: Start or maintain a safety culture

By Stephen Elliott

March 22, 2023

Safety hard hatsAdequate safety training can mean the difference between a safe experience or one of potential injury.  

Every year, serious injuries and death are the result, in part, from unsafe work practices. For example, according to a February news release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a Quincy, Mass., roofing and construction contractor with a long history of exposing its employees to dangerous fall hazards continued to knowingly expose workers to serious injuries or worse. 

OSHA citied the company for four willful violations, totaling $137,508 in proposed penalties for failing to, among other things, train employees in fall protection and recognize fall hazards.  

“Workplace safety is not a game of chance, dependent on whether an employer chooses to protect or risk its employees’ well-being from day to day,” says James Mulligan, OSHA area director, Braintree, Mass. 

Another OSHA news release reports three construction contractors involved in a Tallahassee, Fla., work site might have prevented the death of a 31-year-old laborer who suffered fatal injuries after falling while installing roof trusses. 

“Employers must never overlook fundamental industry safety procedures, such as safety communication and fall protection systems. Ignoring them puts workers at risk and can lead to tragedies like this one,” says Scott Tisdale, OSHA acting area office director, Jacksonville, Fla. 

Overall, in 2021, the bureau’s national census of fatal occupational injures shows there were 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded in the U.S., an 8.9 percent increase from 4,764 in 2020. The fatal work injury rate was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, up from 3.4 per 100,000 FTE in 2020 and up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 3.5. The data comes from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). 

According to OSHA, effective training can be provided outside a formal classroom setting. Peer-to-peer training, on-the-job training and work-site demonstrations are some ways to provide safety concepts and promote good work habits. 

Kevin Gern, American Rental Association (ARA) vice president of education and risk management, says safety training is imperative. 

“As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure you have all the proper training and gear for your employees to perform their tasks and perform those tasks safely,” Gern says. “And, as an employer, you should be documenting all of that.” 

OSHA logoGern says as an employee, you owe it not only to yourself, but to your family and loved ones to come home from work in the same or better condition than when you went in.  

“Your employer does not pay you enough money to get hurt or to get killed at work,” Gern says. “They don’t. Why would you take that safety shortcut to save yourself a few seconds? Every time we take a safety shortcut, who are we really shortcutting?” 

Gern says it is never prudent to assume anything when it comes to safety training. Veteran employees may get complacent. Common sense is a term Gern says can be misleading, especially if the employee has never been trained on how to use a piece of equipment or a specific procedure. 

“It’s very important to maintain a safety culture,” Gern says. “And, if you don’t have one, it’s very important to get one instituted as soon as possible because it’s only going to make it harder the longer you delay doing this. But, once you start to implement safety from day one of a person’s employment, and you explain that safety mindset, it becomes easier day in and day out to maintain that attitude and that level of professionalism when it comes to safety.” 

Rental companies also should make sure all OSHA-required safety programs and policies are being followed. Not having the required safety programs in place could result in a fine. 

OSHA has some of the following suggestions for safety training: 

Provide program awareness training. Train managers, supervisors, workers, contractors, subcontractors and temporary agency workers on safety and health policies, goals and procedures, functions of the safety and health program, whom to contact with questions or concerns about the program and what to do in an emergency. 

Train employers, managers and supervisors on their roles in the program. Reinforce employers, managers and supervisors’ knowledge of their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the workers’ rights guaranteed by the act. 

Train workers on their specific roles in the safety and health program. Instruct workers on how to report injuries, illnesses, incidents and concerns. If a computerized reporting system is used, ensure that all employees have the basic computer skills and computer access sufficient to submit an effective report. 

Train workers on hazard identification and controls. Instruct workers on concepts and techniques for controlling hazards, including the hierarchy of controls and its importance.