What are the best safety and health practices? To get the best answer, I went to a man who has conducted more than 1,000 safety and health inspections and audits in more than 300 different facilities worldwide in the past 20 years.

Paul Esposito is president of Star Consultants, a Maryland firm that specializes in EHS management consulting. For the past seven years, he has performed more than 150 safety and health management system audits that are equivalent to OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Top ten lists are always a matter of opinion, but given Mr. Esposito’s experience, his list and explanations are valuable.

1. Start each meeting with safety

Someone, typically a senior manager, begins the meeting with a personal “safety share.” A manager might say, “Last night I was building a shed with my son and he walked out without his safety glasses. We discussed what he was going to do and the hazards, and he went back to get his glasses.” If you put your mind to it, everyone can think about something they recently did on or off the job that involved either safety precautions or risks.

2. Safety committee start-up

Have a line manager serve as committee chair for the first six months to a year that the committee is operating. Line managers understand documentation, tracking, motivation, and delegating to get results. They can facilitate documenting a charter, written with realistic goals. Make sure each member has an assigned responsibility, especially between meetings. Everyone has to contribute to goals and action plans to remain on the committee.

3. Safety and health policy

Safety and health policy statements must be developed with employee involvement — with unions if they are present. Policy statements have signature blocks for the plant manager, EHS manager, and union leaders. One plant manager had a kick-off event to publicize the policy with photos, newsletter articles, and a party for both shifts.

4. Staffing a committee

Frustrated with the slow process of getting committees started and a lack of interest on the part of hourly personnel, one plant manager took matters into his own hands. He asked his EHS manager, “How many committees do we need?,” and personally walked the floor for two days soliciting hourly reps for ten different committees. He promised prospective committee members that he would support them and that he had an open door. He personally chaired one committee and sat on two others. Every committee also had management mentors.

5. Goals and objectives

In one organization, each department head had hourly employees serve as safety monitors, and a salaried safety coordinator for a workforce of 30 - 60 people. A two-hour block of time was set aside to call a “town meeting” of all his staff. Coordinators and monitors presented department-specific safety data and trend analyses for injuries, first aid and near-miss cases, inspection findings, root causes and VPP element weaknesses.

The group agreed on a forward path and prioritized their actions. Volunteers were solicited to develop detailed action plans for each department to use to improve safety. Everyone’s commitments were documented, as well as any necessary capital outlays.

6. Inspection process

Don’t wait for audits to uncover problems. One site took an extremely proactive approach to finding and fixing safety problems before formal inspections were conducted. Points/demerits are accumulated for any deficiencies observed during a random inspection that turned up on formal audit reports.

If the supervisor has already identified the same finding and recorded and submitted corrective action, then no demerits are recorded. Extra demerits are issued for serious (high priority) issues and findings open more than 30 days. The department with the highest score receives a pizza at a monthly luncheon. Scores become part of each manager’s performance appraisal. Inspection teams are highly trained, and team members rotate to ensure objectivity.

7. New equipment inspection

A few sites call this a “Green Tag” program. Every new piece of equipment that is installed is assigned a two-part, sequentially numbered green tag. The area supervisor can lose his job if a machine is used for production without all four required signatures on both sections of the tag. EHS, maintenance, line management, and engineering must sign off. Once all signatures have been received, the bottom half is filed and the top half stays on the machine. Anyone caught removing a green tag may be fired.

8. Job analysis and personnel placement

At many best practice sites, medical personnel participate in reviewing each job, taking an inventory of physical demands such as lifting, twisting, turning, frequencies, etc. Anytime a job opening is posted, all internal applicants are routed through medical first to see if any known restrictions would preclude them from consideration. This only applies to existing workers, per Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

9. Tracking issues & concerns

A few sites use Intranet-driven databases that record employee complaints, inspection findings, incident root causes, maintenance safety work orders, etc. What works best is to permit any employee to submit an issue, and issues cannot be closed until the “submitter” agrees. A review panel of workers and managers examines all overdue items, and closure rates go into the performance appraisals of the parties responsible for closing out an issue. Not all issues are accepted, but it’s the review board’s job to verify if a suggestion or issue has merit or is a safety concern.

10. Self-assessments

One site trained team members, often a mix of hourly employees and managers, in how to perform VPP-type annual assessments, conduct personnel interviews, and visually confirm program strengths and weaknesses. Their assessment guidelines are in writing.

The best companies actually score their assessments so they can truly measure continuous improvement. Some even go so far as to score their employee interviews — sort of a dynamic perception survey — and compare results every six months to validate that the corrective action plans are achieving the desired results. These assessments drive corrective action plans that are monitored and verified monthly by a central safety committee.

Mr. Esposito may be reached at (410) 349-9713, or you may contact him at his company’s Web site at www.starconsultants.net.