After a workplace tragedy at a former employer 20 years ago, safety is on my mind night and day. I was managing a retail store that generated $56 million in sales and I remember occasionally noticing employees not wearing their protective equipment – no eye protection when cutting lumber or seat belts when operating forklifts. At that time, hitting my sales targets were my top priority instead of safety.
Brian Varner, Director of Risk Management, Compass One Healthcare (Evs/pt)
Learning From Experience
But all of that changed one morning in November 1998. All store managers were suddenly told to attend an emergency conference call where we learned that a girl in one of our stores had been killed when a forklift truck operator was trying to retrieve merchandise from a high shelf. Some merchandise was not secured to a pallet, falling 16 feet and hitting the girl. I had a young son at that time and couldn’t imagine the mother’s pain. I called all of my managers into my office to share the news and vowed that safety would be my top priority every day. In fact, even to this day, when someone asks what I do for a living, I state “I protect people” dedicating this mission to the little girl that lost her life as a result of an unsafe situation.
How Personal Protective Equipment Keeps Us All Safe
The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) our associates wear in Environmental Services is more demanding than most industries. Depending on the job, they are required to wear gloves, goggles, face shields, aprons, masks, gowns, shoe covers and surgical caps. In some cases, our employees are covered from head to toe in protective gear.
Because eye injuries are the leading cause of associate injuries, we focus much of our efforts on preventing chemicals, dust and debris from damaging an associate’s eyes.
After noticing a recent uptick in eye injuries, I visited our associates at one of our larger EVS accounts (over 300 associates at this one location). Whether it’s wearing goggles to prevent eye injuries or gloves to block chemicals from absorbing into a person’s skin, sometimes associates decide not wear their goggles and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) because they are in too much of a hurry or just feel it’s an inconvenience.
Our eye- related injuries are down from the previous year, so we know that our safety and training programs are working. But despite continually working to raise awareness of our safety protocols, I’m always trying to find ways to do more.
The increase of eye injuries resulted from an odd change in equipment. Not long ago, we created a program called G2 (Gloves and Glasses), which required associates to wear protective glasses and gloves when entering a patient’s room. The glasses protected associates not just from chemicals that could damage a persons’ eyes, but also from dust and other debris that causes eye damage severe enough for an associate to file a medical claim. After implementing G2, we witnessed eye injuries drop by double digits over a two-year period.
Unfortunately, regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled that our glasses didn’t comply with federal safety laws. Instead of wearing glasses, they required our associates to wear suction goggles. While the googles are certainly designed to prevent injuries, some associates find them uncomfortable and others are even inconvenient to wear for long periods of time.
After switching back to safety goggles mandated by OSHA, we saw injuries rise again. So, what’s a company to do? Much of it comes down to finding better ways to communicate to everyone and enforcing our PPE requirements.
Expressing The Importance of Safety
It started by looking long and hard at new ways to educate management and employees on safety. PPE began to get more attention; in our on-boarding and refresher training courses we inserted a session specifically to address PPE.
We’ve also made changes in our ongoing communications channels to be more effective. One recent change is tying messages in our monthly CHAT, Compass Group’s frontline communication program that helps managers communicate important information to associates, and the weekly minder messages so they are related. For example, if the CHAT topic is how to prevent physical strain on the body, the weekly minders for the month focus on the correct ways to move furniture, lift trash, lift linen and operate equipment.
Finally, we want to give employees a financial incentive to make certain they and their co-workers stay safe, and that’s where our Safety Bingo game comes in. Each employee is provided with a bingo card. Each day the location goes without a medical claim, a number is drawn and placed on the bingo board.
The game is played until an employee wins bingo and earns a $25 award. If there is a medical claim, the game ends, no one gets a prize and new bingo cards issued. In addition to the financial reward, the game helps all employees to remind each other to stay safe. When individuals and their teams win money for avoiding injuries, everybody wins. Associates look out for each other to make certain they are wearing gloves, goggles and other protective gear to ensure they can claim “bingo.”
The safety game also helps build morale within a unit. I remember one of our staff members winning a prize and telling management that she was going to purchase something special on her way home that evening for her family.
For managers, there is an incentive to be safe as well. We recently introduced the Safety Excellence Award that is presented annually to EVS and PT locations with the best safety records and highest safety inspection scores.
There is one final incentive: we want everyone to return home to their families safe at the end of the day. With enough training and a vigilant attitude, I’m confident we’ll continue to reduce injuries help everyone meet that goal.
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