May 11, 2011

Preventing Accidents is Better Than a Hot Fudge Sundae on a Hot Summer Night

By Paul Bieber

And if you know me, you know how much I like hot fudge sundaes, with cookies and cream ice cream. Or really any ice cream except maple walnut. (Maple ice cream is BIG in New Hampshire) But, let’s get back to safety.

Preventing accidents and injuries is key to the long-term success of any company, and most definately in the glass industry. We have talked about keeping a shop clean and clutter free, and wearing of safety gear to reduce the extent of an injury.

Now, just after an accident occurs, and the employee is in the hospital, or back at work, what do you do? There are definately specific steps to take.

  1. Have each person who witnessed the accident write a complete report of what they saw. Tell them this report will help to prevent injuries in the future. Most union members will balk at this, but stress how important it is to your overall safety program. Help any employee who may not be literate in English to write their report. If you get four people to write reports, you will have four different views that will not agree with each other, but they all will be helpful. These reports should be started within minutes of the accident so that the incident is clear and not subject to reinterpritation.
  2. Your safety coordinator (of course, you have one, or it is you) looks at all the causes of the accident…rarely is there just one. The coordinator then should change or improve the conditions that caused the accident. It may mean changing a work flow pattern, changing a product location in your shop and usually includes an education plan for all employees. Don’t ever think that an accident can not be prevented. All can be prevented…it is just a matter of cost and procedure to do so. If you tell an federal or state OSHA inspector that an accident can’t be prevented, they will close the section of your company that you can’t prevent accidents in! Yes, they will and you can appeal all you want…you will lose this one.
  3. It is your responsibility to change any aspect of your business to prevent that same accident again. At my glass fabrication company we enforced our safety rules to the point of a first and second warning, and then terminations for failure to wear the proper safety equipment. The message went out that we were serious. Our accident rate had spiked up, causing a significant increase in insurance costs. It took a couple of years for our comp rates to go down, and we discovered it would have been one heck of a lot cheaper to invest in prevention.
  4. Your comp insurance carrier should be your best friend. Use their accident prevention services to help you, at every chance you get. These folks will be real pros at helping you to avoid accidents. They will ask you to spend here and there to improve this and that. Do it. It will save you in the long run.
  5. Whatever kinds of accidents you have, keep accurate records on your OSHA log. OSHA does not go out of their way to punish companies. In fact, they have many programs for voluntary safety inspections.
  6. Go to for great information for small businesses.
  7. When an OSHA inspector knocks on your door, invite them in. Never tell them to come back with a warrant. They will and you won’t be happy with the results. Give the inspector the documents they ask for, which will include your accident log, your lost time hours, and saftey reports including your accident investigtion paperwork. You can certainly give them time to review your reports, and have a cup of coffee, while you send someone to the shop area to “clean up.”
  8. Make sure you have the basics, like the MSDS sheets, phone numbers posted for ambulances and well-stocked first aid kits.
  9. Answer their questions with all honesty, but answer only what they ask. If an inspector takes a picture, you should take the same picture. If they interview an employee, you should sit in.
  10. If you think you are in ‘trouble,’ immedietely call your comp insurance broker, who may have should be able to get a qualified person to assist you in the walk through.

That’s enough for now. Just remember that safety is your responsibility…you can’t blame an employee…it comes out of your financial hide in the long run.