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Back in June, a black bear sauntered into a manufacturing plant in Virginia and got itself stuck in the rafters. Local wildlife services and the onsite safety team used tranquilizer darts and a forklift to carefully relocate the frightened beast. 

Everyone, even the bear, walked away unharmed, but the story could have had a very different ending. So, what made the difference between comedy and tragedy? 

As unusual as it was for the plant's staff to have a bear perched up above the production floor, it was just another day at the office for the animal control officers, who followed their well-established SOPs to ensure everyone's safety. 

And that's the key takeaway from this, thankfully, funny story. Because animal control had systems in place, they were able to keep everyone safe. 

Although it depends on your location and the whims of the local wildlife, there's likely little chance you need to harden your facilities against curious bears. But what about all the other dangers? How good are you at avoiding problems? And when bad things happen, how prepared are you to safely respond? Are you keeping everyone safe? 

Before looking at how to increase safety, let's first review some key definitions. 

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What is occupational safety? 

Because safety is a multidisciplinary field that ties into local, state, and federal laws, it's hard to have one perfect definition that covers everything. But basically, occupational safety is the theories and practices organizations use to prevent the hazards that cause injury. Everything from simple guardrails near cutting blades to complex fire suppression systems. Broadly, safety is all the things you do to ensure people don't get hurt. 

And because safety is so important, most countries have governmental agencies in charge of making sure workers stay safe. In the States, it's the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), while north of the boarder there's the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). 

Looking at those names, though, it's clear that there's more than just safety. There's also health. 

But what's the difference between safety and health? 

What's the difference between occupational safety and occupational health? 

While safety is closely tied to preventing accidents, health is broader, and so can include everything from prevention of harassment to promotion of mental health and adoption of ergonomic equipment like chairs that prevent lower-back pain. Health can also cover things like programs to help employees quit smoking and join gyms. 

For example, when a technician works of a piece of equipment, safety covers ensuring they have appropriate personal protective equipment and access to information and tools for safe lock-out/tag-out procedures. Health covers ensuring they are not harassed while working and they don't have to move dangerously heavy objects to complete their tasks.  

What are the benefits of workplace safety procedures? 

There are a million good reasons to have a robust health and safety program in place, and it's easy to see why by looking at how accidents, even small ones, can quickly snowball into an avalanche of heartbreaking, costly problems. 

Imagine a maintenance technician is seriously injured while on the job. What are the immediate and long-term effects? 

Right away, and most importantly, that tech's life has changed, possible forever. It's heartbreaking. Everyone deserves a safe work environment. 

And your organization is looking at additional costs. There could be a lot of expensive downtime during investigations by both internal teams and outside agencies. Depending on the outcome, there could be OSHA fines or large lawsuits to settle. When you're back at full production, you need to find and train a replacement technician, which can be hard if your department has a reputation for accidents. Reputational damage can extend to the rest of the organization, too. If the accident caused production delays, there are unhappy customers that the organization needs to win back, often with generous terms and discounts.     

What are some examples of common safety mistakes? 

Assuming that "common sense" is common is likely the most common safety mistake. You can't trust everyone to just know how to do things safely, even when it seems obvious. If you don't have safety procedures in place as part of a robustly developed, supported, and enforced program, you're guaranteeing problems for yourself. 

Another common problem is treating a near-miss differently than an accident. If someone almost slipped and fell, you should treat that exactly as if they had fallen. Remember, the only reason it was a near-miss instead of an accident was dumb luck, and everyone's luck runs out eventually. 

"Fingers crossed" is not a safety program. 

Two more common safety problems are failing to track accidents and near-misses and then failing to update your safety SOPs. If you're not tracking problems, it's impossible to make the right fixes. And if you're only tracking problems but not using that data to help you make your workplace safer, the result is the same as if you were not tracking at all. 

How can I make my workplace safer? 

As part of an organization's overall health and safety program, the maintenance department can add safety procedures to both general work orders and safety-specific PMs. 

For example, when you generate an on-demand work order for a broken cutting blade, you can include steps at the beginning and end of the work order to ensure the tech's safety. You can add step-by-step instructions on: 

Where to find and how to properly use the right PPE 

  • How to securely lock out the equipment 
  • How to clearly tag out the equipment 
  • When to remove the tags and lockouts 
  • How to safely test the equipment after the repairs 

You can also add PMs focused specifically on safety. For example, you can add inspections on: 

  • Guardrails 
  • Emergency cut-off switches 
  • Potential fall and tripping hazards 
  • Operator-installed bypasses for safety features 

For that last one, you're checking to make sure operators have not found ways to get around the built-in safety features on equipment. For example, on some presses, there are two buttons that the operator must push at the same time to activate the press, ensuring they have both hands far outside the equipment and that every activation is deliberate. To move more quickly and save time, an operator might tape or jam one of the buttons. 

How does a CMMS make it easier to stay safe? 

Remember, you can make things safer by: 

  • Adding safety steps to on-demand work orders 
  • Scheduling safety-specific inspections and task 
  • Tracking near-misses and accidents 
  • Updating all your safety SOPs as needed 

And a good modern CMMS solution makes everything faster, more reliable, and just easier. 

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Adding safety steps to work orders 

If you're doing work orders manually, especially with paper, adding steps is both tough and time consuming. And unless you have good handwriting, you're forcing your techs to either struggle through your scribbles or skip them altogether. 

But with modern work order management software, you can build templates that you can then add to new work orders with just a few clicks. Now instead of trying to copy everything over by hand, you just type it out once before being able to add it everywhere you want instantly. 

Scheduling safety-specific inspections and task 

A good CMMS makes it easy to generate on-demand work orders and also schedule PMs that autogenerate based on time or usage. You can basically set it and forget it because the software does all the remembering for you. 

Need to know what's on the schedule? The software makes it easy with clean, intuitive calendar views. And when you need to make changes and switch around the PMs, it's as easy as dragging and dropping the PMs to new dates. 

One of the great features of PMs in a CMMS is that you can easily track your preventive maintenance program, keeping everyone on track and accountable with maintenance metrics and KPIs like PM close-out rates. 

Tracking near-misses and accidents 

The easier it is to collect data, the more likely techs do it. If they have to fill out and hand in a bunch of paperwork by hand, techs are discouraged from reporting near-misses and accidents. But modern CMMS software makes it a painless process, and that means you get more and better data on your facility's safety. 

As soon as there's a problem, techs can quickly log in and generate an on-demand work order with "work and safety" as the category. You can then use the software to generate reports using that specific category. Finally, you know what's going wrong and can start to take active steps to fix it. 

Updating all your safety SOPs as needed 

And here's how the right CMMS software solution makes taking active steps easier. Remember your CMMS templates? Instead of having to go back and update everything by hand, any changes you make to a template then automatically apply to every new on-demand or PM work order. 

You can think of templates like cookie cutters. Every time you use one, you can make a perfect copy. Need something new? As soon as you update the template, it's like switching to a new cookie cutter. Now everything matches the new template. 

Summary of workplace safety procedures

You need safety procedures to make sure your facilities are safe, and your organization doesn't have to deal with the costs connected to accidents, including loss of both production uptime and reputation. The most common safety mistakes are assuming people will use common sense, treating near-misses and accidents differently, and failing to properly track problems. The right CMMS solution helps by making it easier to add safety steps to work orders and schedule safety-specific PMs. You can use templates to add safety information, PM scheduling to plan and track safety inspections and tasks, work order categories to track accidents, and more templates to update and share safety SOPs. 

Next steps 

Ready to improve safety at your facilities? Then, it's time to implement the right CMMS software. 

Hippo's here to help you get the solution that works best for you, including answering your questions about maintenance strategies (and everything else related to maintenance), help you booking a live software demo, or even setting you up with a free trial

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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