Workplace safety is the most important facet of working in and managing a plant. Mitigating the risk of injury or even death is motivation enough for maintaining a strong safety program, but in-plant accidents can also impact a company in direct and indirect forms that are not often anticipated. These potentially include:
- Time lost from work by injured employees, fellow employees and their supervisor(s)
- Loss of efficiency due to breakup of crew and training costs for new or replacement workers
- Damage to facilities, tools and equipment, and time they are out of service
- Loss of production for remainder of the day and possible failure to fill orders or meet deadlines, as well as overhead costs while work is disrupted
- Insurance premium increases, fines or lawsuits
- Intangible costs of human tragedy, injured morale and damage to the company’s reputation
Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance member Mike Troutman, vice president of environmental, health and safety excellence for MI Windows and Doors and co-chair of the FGIA Fenestration Safety Committee, spoke at the FGIA Virtual Annual Conference about the importance of reporting incidents and protocol for doing so.
According to Troutman’s research, 95 percent of accidents stem from unsafe or inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. Hazardous conditions account for between 3 to 5 percent, while uncontrollable acts account for 2 percent of workplace accidents. “We, as management, control a lot of factors that couple with behaviors, which we can allow or influence,” he said. “A lot of responsibility for the incident rests on our shoulders.”
Through poor system design, accidents can, in effect, be unintentionally planned.
Protocol road map
The FGIA Fenestration Safety Committee offered an accident investigation protocol road map based on finding root causes of actual and potential accidents and removing the associated hazards.
An effective accident investigation program involves:
- Written procedures. These provide uniform guidance for the investigator(s) to ensure the same quality and details are uniformly captured whenever an incident occurs. This could be as simple as a form used the same way every time.
- Defined responsibility for conducting investigations. The area supervisor usually takes the lead, but specialized help should be available for major incidents, such as engineering, maintenance, safety and/or HR.
- Formal investigator training. Accident investigation courses are available through the National Safety Council, state outreach programs or insurance providers.
- A focus on facts, not assigning blame.
- Written reports. Documented reports are helpful for future reference in case an incident turns into a claim. Also, they permit identification and analysis of emerging hazardous trends.
- Follow-up recommendations. Develop recommendations for improvement of the process that failed, which is an important step toward prevention.
- Review of the accident to share best practices. Share details of the accident, omitting names of involved personnel, so others can learn best practices and prevent recurrence of similar situations in other departments or locations.
Note that “near misses”—incidents where no property was damaged and no personal injury sustained but, given a slight shift in time or position, a bad outcome could easily have occurred—offer opportunities for improvement, as well as actual occurrences that do result in a problem or injury. “A near miss is like a second chance,” said Troutman.
Incident investigation steps
A well-established accident response and investigation procedure will help ensure that people do not panic, stay focused and act quickly. Recommended steps include:
- Secure and isolate the site to prevent additional injuries and disturbance of physical evidence.
- Preserve and document the scene. Visually record the layout of the site with pictures and/or large, legible sketches or drawings.
- Obtain eyewitness information, if possible.
- Develop the sequence of events leading up to the incident.
- Determine and state the root cause of the incident, using much the same corrective action process as employed in quality management.
- Recommend improvements. Identify the person or position responsible for accomplishing the corrective action and establish a mutually agreeable date for completion. Recommendations for corrective and preventive action should be specific to the situation.
- Write the incident report, including a complete description of the incident and a statement of the root cause.
- Communicate the results, including corrective actions and associated system improvements.
Developing such an investigative program is a key element of instilling a “safety-first culture” that includes clear work rules, eliminates confusion and forestalls potential injuries.