The word “Safety” is so often used nowadays that sometimes we do not stop to think what it entails. In a nutshell, the purpose of safety is to prevent accidents or untoward incidents.
This could be one of the best ways to measure how safe a workplace is. The absence of accidents or untoward incidents will usually point towards a safe place. Incidentally, a lack of security can often lead to an unsafe place too.
Violation to security can very often lead to safety concerns. Any intruder like armed robbers would threaten the safety of a place by the use of dangerous weapons. Because of the unpredictability of the motive or actions, even the use of bare hands to harm can be a cause for concern to those who are faced with an intruder.
Another topic very much related to safety is health. A person’s safety can be affected by health hazards.
What is the difference?
Any violation to safety could possibly result in an accident. An accident will result in some sort of physical injury to the person, whether it is a cut, burn, tear, bruise or even death if it is serious.
Any violation to health exposure could result in long term damage to a person physically, which might not be apparent at the time of exposure. For example exposure to chemicals like benzene may not cause death if the dosage is small, but repeated exposures at high levels could cause cancer to develop in the person. Does that make sense?
The effect of chemicals can again be classified further. Chemicals can also cause accidents.
Hazardous chemicals can be classified as toxic, corrosive, irritant, explosive, flammable, oxidizing, carcinogenic, and mutagenic. The degree of hazard can also vary with the concentration and the amount of exposure to a person. So a diluted corrosive chemical may not be as harmful as a concentrated one at a certain instance, but may do damage if the exposure is long.
The effect of chemicals is also more serious to some parts of the body than to others. For example, corrosives may damage the eyes very quickly, but may not affect the skin of the palm much. Time is also a factor. The longer the exposure, the more damage is being done.
Many cases of exposure to corrosives resulted in accidents. The effects can be felt immediately. However, those people exposed to carcinogens will only know that their health was affected many years later.
So in order to tackle safety, we have to look at all aspects – safety, security, and health aspects.
When we are asked to talk about safety in the workplace, it is necessary to know where our workplace is. Otherwise, we may be talking nonsense. Some workplaces are extremely hazardous to health and safety. Some places have security risks, while some are extremely safe.
So the first thing to note is the industry. And not only that, this can still be categorized into work areas like production floor, outdoor installation, office, laboratory, on the road, and so on.
If you are serious about preventing accidents in any workplace, then you should try to collect data or information about the nature of the job, incidents of accidents, and analyze them. For example, you might like to find out what caused these accidents – were they due to human error, fatigue, poor design of machines, faulty materials, act of God, and so on… If you do not have much data, perhaps due to not many accidents having been recorded, you can still do some analysis of the risks involved. Sometimes you can deduce the causes with a bit of common sense but at other times; you may need to consult experts.
A risk assessment is a thinking exercise whereby we try to figure out the amount of risk for doing a certain task. Many experts draw up risk matrixes which systematically tabulate the seriousness of the risk against the likelihood of things going wrong for each task. Having drawn up a risk matrix, it becomes a useful tool in order to tell from a glance what kind of risk we will encounter if we were to do a certain task, and what precautions or other additional preparation need to be carried out at the same time in order to avoid an accident.
Only when you have a clear idea where the risks are can you work out how to minimize the risks.
The additional preparation to minimize the risk could be as simple as filling out a permit-to-work form, or putting up an alert notice, tagging-out of live energies from electrical switchboards, or it could involve more detailed activities and people.
Of course, a risk assessment need to be set up by someone who is very familiar with the job, someone who can accurately determine what is going to happen when doing a task. These people are content experts. Their roles can be extremely important.
Sometimes, a new task needs to be carried out which nobody has done before. The content expert must be able to visualize what is involved and what kind of risk(s) to expect before the job even gets started. Toolbox meetings should be carried out with all the people involved with the task so that everybody is aware of what is happening and no surprises are in store.
How do the content experts know what to expect? Usually, it is through experience. Experience is what can make a person competent. They become competent by actually working in dangerous places, and then having survived. Their past experiences have taught them where the danger was around them but they had learnt how not to get caught in any hazardous situation.
Safety information from posters and bulletins are extremely helpful in educating the future competent person. Safety is not a one time learning experience but rather the safety messages have to be ingrained into the person so that he becomes extra careful. Awareness is a key factor in preventing accidents or avoiding exposure to health hazards.
Cartoon safety posters are worth displaying around the workplace. People are naturally impatient and are not inclined to sit down long to study safety. The messages in cartoon safety posters are one resource that can break this habit. You may not see the difference now, but they can produce for you a content expert for the future who can tackle safety safely.