Volume 50, Issue 12 - December 2015


Want a Safer Workplace? Prepare, Measure, Document

Terry Burkhalter, an authorized Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instructor and trainer, discussed risk management and safety in manufacturing during the recent American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) fall conference in Cambridge, Md.

He took a broad look at workplace safety, ranging from disaster preparedness to an aging workforce.

Burkhalter began his talk with a presentation on extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

“Weather puts a lot of strain on your workplace, and emergency planning does not keep up,” he said. “Did you know that 43 percent of companies that experience a major disaster never reopen? So what level of catastrophe do you plan for?”

While it’s good that many businesses make extensive plans for natural disasters, Burkhalter said most ignore a potentially devastating disaster that lurks around workplaces every day — the chance of a serious injury or fatality. Miscommunications and a “that’s not my job” attitude can have devastating results, Burkhalter said. He cited a statistic showing that 90 percent of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior.

Burkhalter also discussed the labor shortage in the industry, noting that the loss of skilled employees and an aging work

force are problems for many reasons. For example, older workers can increase the number of age-related injuries, mainly because they’re still the largest percentage of the workforce—and their numbers will only increase in the next few years, he said.

“Thirty percent of the workforce will be over 55 by 2020,” Burkhalter said. “Are you handling that? Are you prepared for that?”

He then displayed a chart of the most common injuries reported in the fenestration industry. Shoulder injuries were No. 1, followed by injuries to backs, fingers, hands, arms, wrists, thumbs, knees and eyes.

Minimizing risk is crucial, according to Burkhalter, who suggested putting safety policies in place and making sure they’re followed. To manage the risk process, he said it’s crucial to document everything.

“A policy is not a policy until it is enforced,” said Burkhalter. “How can you prove that you’ve enforced your own guidelines? Proof is key. What gets measured gets improved.” He also urged attendees to enforce those policies consistently.

Despite frequent media reports about on-the-job injuries and deaths, Burkhalter said workplace safety is changing and improving thanks to lean manufacturing, ergonomics and work-flow studies.

As for OSHA, Burkhalter said the organization’s purpose is to ensure safe working conditions for every man and woman in the country. He also said the organization’s enforcement process is getting more stringent. For example, OSHA now emphasizes employee interviews during investigations. Burkhalter also said the agency is more aggressive with its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which concentrates on inspecting employers who have multiple violations.

“Know your rights and get with your attorneys,” he said. “Document everything you do,” because documentation is viewed as the weak link in the OSHA investigative and legal process.

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