Surviving the Downturn

Don’t ignore safety and training initiatives.


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In the current economic climate it’s tempting for many finishing shop managers to batten down the hatches and simply try to hang on, waiting for business to improve.

Training and worker safety initiatives are often among the first items to be set aside under such conditions. That’s understandable—the two areas are sometimes looked at as luxuries to be pursued when times are good and ignored during difficult economic circumstances. Sometimes they’re even seen as being at odds with production schedules and productivity.

But ignoring worker safety is a mistake, experts say. If training and safety awareness initiatives prevent a single workplace accident, they have probably more than paid for the time and effort spent implementing them.

Still, most managers would probably prefer simpler ways to promote safe work practices than those advocated in some safety programs. Many such initiatives that start with the best of intentions get bogged down in paper shuffling and become a burden for managers. Worse, they may not even have a positive impact on safety performance.

Experts recommend a common-sense approach to integrate safety into production and maintain production schedules while keeping injury numbers and costs down. This is accomplished through ongoing review of workplace processes and procedures to develop a continuous improvement environment with regard to safety.

The system allows employees at every level of a company to contribute by recognizing and correcting unsafe conditions or practices; identifying and implementing safer ways to perform a task; streamlining processes to adjust for newly identified hazards; and improving procedures to ensure consistent safe performance of workplace tasks.

How does training fit into this picture? Well, employees who haven’t received proper training may not even know how to perform a task properly. With training, safety becomes part of an integrated recipe for productivity rather than an expendable concept that can be removed at will.

It all sounds a bit more complicated than it really is. A key piece of the puzzle is workplace examination, in which managers and employees take a few minutes at the beginning of their shift to look for hazards in their work areas that may have developed while they were gone. This may include everything from missing guards or damaged handrails to spills on floors or stairways. Correcting problems before starting work eliminates or greatly reduces worker exposure to such hazards.

Team members should also be aware of possible hazards that can develop during their shift, and take a couple minutes before starting a job to ensure they have the right tools and training needed to safely complete the task. This may include a review of operating instructions if necessary.

Speaking of operating instructions, these should be reviewed and revised on a regular basis to reflect current safe practices. Individual and team involvement is important here to ensure tasks are performed in the safest way possible.

This approach to safety uses teamwork to eliminate or minimize workplace hazards. In doing that, it can have a positive impact on your bottom line, even during these troubled time