Safety: The Safety Series, Part Four

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Safety: The Safety Series, Part Four: Write it Down! The Importance of Written Safety Protocols and Accident Reporting

By Terri Perrin / Published July 2015



Jeff Cooper was a celebrated American philosopher, moralist, and political commentator. It is said that he developed a passion for writing things down at a very early age, and he authored several books over his lifetime. Cooper was addressing the use of firearms when he penned a now-famous quote: “Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”

While Cooper was referring to handguns when he wrote this, his wise words are as applicable on the manufacturing floor or a job site as they are at a shooting range. If Cooper were alive today, I am sure he would agree that it is essential not only for our industry to ‘write things down,’ but to ensure that employees read and heed the safety protocols that are put in place to protect them. Employee, safety is serious business!

Safety Spotlight on Employees

At Iowa-based Mi-T-M, Safety Manager, Dean Steger, explains that safety is an important part of the company’s corporate culture. Training starts the moment an individual is hired. “Everyone at Mi-T-M is given an employee handbook that is theirs to keep,” says Steger. “They are expected to read it before they show up for their first shift. Giving this information in advance ensures that they have an opportunity to read and understand our safety rules. They know what is expected of them while they perform their duties on the manufacturing floor.”

In the back of every handbook is a sheet that the employee must sign to prove that they have read and understood the information it contains. The sign-off sheet is then kept in the employee’s personnel file in Human Resources. Steger stresses that this is a vitally important piece of documentation that protects both the employee and the company in the event of an accident and potential legal action. Once the person commences work, a supervisor trains them and performs a job hazards analysis. They are observed while they perform their duties and reminded of the hazards to ensure that everything is done correctly.

Drew Harbour, Safety Manager, Chappell Supply, Oklahoma, firmly believes that a written employee handbook creates a level of accountability for both the employer and the employees. “Documenting procedures ensures that all employees have the same information, and it can’t be misinterpreted,” explains Harbour. “The consequences of not having written safety protocols can result in increased incidents, higher staff turnover, lower employee morale, and much higher operating costs related to workers’ compensation claims. Preparing safety manuals should be viewed as an investment, not an expense.”

While written documentation is important, follow through is even more crucial. Many companies also test employees to ensure that they were paying attention during safety training and to check competency and understanding. “I keep a record of all the training that is held each year at Chappell Supply, the date of training, each employee’s sign-in on the log, and results of the competency checks,” says Harbour. “A copy of this report goes into each employee’s file, and I keep both a hard (written) and digital master copy.”

If you have a small company and don’t even know where to begin to create your safety manuals and employee handbooks, Harbour adds that members of the Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA) are encouraged to reach out to other members for assistance. In addition to networking to get the help you need, there are also opportunities to take classes to help develop safety protocols at the annual CETA co-locating with ISSA/INTERCLEAN Convention.

Accident Accountability

When an accident does happen, Steger says that Mi-T-M’s detailed accident reporting process is used to determine if there are patterns developing, whereby procedures should be changed to improve safety.

“I think that some people look at accident reports as a bad thing,” clarifies Steger. “But I believe that they can be one of your best tools to help prevent future injuries. Every incident—large or small—is documented and then reviewed monthly by our safety committee. The committee of 22 [for a staff of 380] is comprised of both management and manufacturing floor employees to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.”

“Encouraging a spirit of collaboration in the shop and having an employee-led safety committee will make a huge difference,” adds Harbour. “As a collective group, em-ployees can discuss challenges and figure out how to mitigate the problems that have arisen. Everyone needs to know that they have the ability to stop work if a task doesn’t seem safe. It is about developing a safety culture, not just having a safety program in place.”

Operator’s Manuals

Under the direction of the Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA) standards, all power washing and waterjetting equipment manufacturers are also required to write Operators’/Safety Manuals for industrial and residential pressure washers.

“Every piece of equipment that we design goes through our Research and Development Department’s testing process before it is put into production,” adds Steger. “Mi-T-M has a technical writer on staff who writes all of our operator’s manuals. They are then reviewed and approved by upper management and engineering. They go through the start up and performance, as stated in the manual, to ensure it is failsafe. For distribution in the USA, the manuals are published in English and Spanish. For shipping to Canada, they are printed in French and English.”

Mi-T-M doesn’t stop at publishing manuals. They also conduct service schools, where distributors send their employees to learn how the equipment operates and how to repair it. The distributors then relay this all-important knowledge onto the equipment buyers referring, of course, to the operator’s manuals.

With more than 40-years of pressure washing industry experience, Brenda Purswell, Alklean, Pasadena, TX, has seen an evolution in the production of operator’s manuals. “This industry has made tremendous strides in making equipment safer and manuals more descriptive,” explains Purswell. “In the 1970s and early ‘80s, an operator’s manual may have only had a brief parts list, an exploded view of the equipment, and an explanation of the warranty. Today, with all equipment needing to be ISO certified and compliant with Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Canadian Safety Association (CSA) regulations, many of the current guidebooks are 60 pages or more. And safety labels are also directly on the machines.”

Purswell points out that much of the guidance for creating detailed ‘do’s and don’ts of pressure washing and water-jetting safety has been driven by industry, not government. Organizations like CETA have been instrumental in working to ensure we maintain a level of self-governance, rather than government-regulated protocols. The organization contracted with UL to help write the current regulations. Prior to this, there were no guidelines for electrical components, wand lengths, and hose specification, to name a few areas.

“Supporting CETA and other trade associations is one way that individuals can contribute to ongoing improvements,” adds Purswell. “As individual businesses, there is only so much that we can do to protect ourselves. As a collective group, we have leverage for positive change and continuing self-regulation.”

And remember, it is not good enough simply to store the manuals in a locked office. Ensure that your employee handbooks and operator’s manuals are kept where they are easily accessible to all employees and conduct ongoing reviews of their contents.

We all know that it is human nature to become complacent when operating equipment and doing the same job day after day. To keep safety top of mind—and ‘between the ears’—embrace the concept of having written documentation, conduct regular reviews, and foster a workplace culture where comments are welcome and safety is respected.