The increasing importance of health and safety at the workplace is prompting organisations to devise means of accident prevention at work.
There is need to identify the role of a safety culture in preventing accidents at workplaces. Organizations that have already embarked on safety programmes can learn some more from this and those that haven’t might want to take notes.
The Government of Rwanda’s environmental health policy, published in 2008, states that there is a law governing occupational health and safety in work places. However, this law should be translated into codes of practice to guide its implementation and enforcement. All employers should be guided to establish relevant internal Health and Safety Policies at the work place. Environmental Health (EH) personnel are required to work with MIFOTRA (Ministry of Public Service and Labour) personnel to ensure that EH inspection tools are revised to include aspects of OHS.
Good safety culture in a workplace exists when safety and health are understood to be, and are accepted as a top priority. Safety and health does not exist if isolated from other aspects of organisations, such as people and financial management.
A policy that is not built on a sound safety background promoting occupational health and safety, as well as the well-being of the organisation’s employees and stakeholders, is bound to be fruitless. There should be a shared sense of desirable values and attitudes to which the organization subscribes. An organisation must, therefore, prepare a written policy concerning the protection of the health and safety it’s employees at work, including a description of the organisation and the arrangements for carrying out and reviewing that policy. The policy should be signed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Promotion of a safety culture with the view to preventing accidents in the workplace needs to be set out in seven values. These values are described by the word culture as communication and consultation, understanding workplace hazards, leadership that is visible, taking responsibility, understanding potential emergencies, risk assessment and employee involvement or participation.
In regards to communication and consultation, there are several ways in which organisations can provide health and safety messages at the workplace. At the onset, during the induction process for new employees, critical elements of an organization’s health and safety programmes should be discussed to make employees aware of existing company safety policies.
For companies that practice this already, employees are told about potential hazards and risks that affect their work environment from the get go. They should also be informed on the correct operational procedures that help prevent accidents while carrying out their duties. Availability of funds, in-house publications, calendars, posters, stickers and bulletin boards indicating, for example, time lost due to injuries in the workplace, can be used to promote occupational health and safety.
These are vital forms of communication, as they highlight an organisation’s goals in its accident prevention efforts. Toolbox talks or meetings can be held. These are meant to be brief lasting usually 10 to 15 minutes. The topic of the day is normally facilitated by a shift supervisor and the aim is to introduce or remind workers of the potential occupational health and safety risks of their jobs.
Through the promotion and implementation of the organisation’s occupational health and safety policy, in regards to understanding and recognising hazards, management should make employees aware of both potential and actual hazards in the workplace.
This will also promote the acquisition and use of the necessary guards for machines, in order to safeguard the machine operator, for instance. On-the-job training may not entirely fulfill the required training needs.
As we have seen in the commitments set out in the health and safety policy, the culture of an organization is set by its leaders so visible leadership is vital. The management and their representatives have an obligation to the safety of their employees. At planned or unannounced intervals, they must check that the workplace is free of any unsafe situation. Moreover, they need to keep an eye on employees’ unsafe behaviour so that timely action can be taken to eliminate any hazards.
Expression of safety leadership may take the form of allocation of resources, planning for potential emergency situations, as well as provision of training for employees and supervisors.
Both employees and employers have a role to play in taking responsibility for the prevention of accidents at the workplace. For example, the South African Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 85 of 1993, Section 8, requires that every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees. Furthermore, Section 14 deals with the general duties of employees at work, requiring that every employee shall take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions.
Although it is hard to predict when accidents will happen, employees and employers need to ensure that they understand potential emergencies – such as explosions and spillages of hazardous substances, to mention but a few in order to reduce risks.
An emergency preparedness and response procedure should be developed and this will address the resources needed to deal with emergencies once they occur and the type of training needed by emergency response personnel.
The location of hazardous materials must be known to all personnel, including external emergency response personnel – for example, the fire brigade and ambulance services. The availability of equipment for emergency response must be known, and equipment must be regularly tested. Evacuation plans or exit maps must be clearly marked and must remain unobstructed. The emergency procedure should also ensure that the alarm systems are periodically tested for the proper functions’ sake. It must also be verified that the personnel is aware of what each signal means.
There is a notion that “every workplace accident is preventable”. For this to be realised, the organisation’s occupational health and safety management systems need to be proactive.
They should not wait for accidents to happen.
A procedure for risk assessment must be implemented to prompt a periodical assessment of potential risks. Employees whose activities might have an impact on the health and safety of others need to be trained in the process of assessments. For example, the workstation layout as well as the duties being performed should be checked for any ergonomic-related risk factors. Attention can also be paid to awkward positions that may cause painful ergonomic injuries, especially if they are frequent, in order to assess whether any potential occupational overuse syndromes arise.
Training should be able to empower personnel by providing them the skills they need to identify hazards within the workplace and those that originate outside the workplace. They should be able to assess the risks associated with the identified hazards, and to take appropriate control measures into consideration.
The involvement and participation of employees in matters pertaining to health and safety can improve morale and promote a culture of confidence that solicits initiatives contributing to methods on preventing workplace accidents. Involvement and participation of employees in health and safety matters also encourages a sense of ownership.
In conclusion, for organisations to prevent accidents at workplaces effectively, there is a need to ensure an appropriate safety culture that is based on sound values of communication and consultation and an understanding of workplace hazards. It is necessary to ensure that the leadership is visible and committed to safety programmes and that there is a mandate of joint responsibility for workplace safety from employees and employers alike. This should be guided by clear policies. Potential emergency situations should be understood, risk assessments should be conducted, and every employee should be involved and actively participate in order to promote high morale at work.
Therefore, the approach towards accident prevention should been seen as the pursuit of continuous safety improvement.