Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Hazardous Energy

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Hazardous Energy

Article excerpt

"I'd gladly pay you three fingers Tuesday for a new dress today."

These are not the words of J. Wellington Wimpy from Popeye. This is the sentiment, and career strategy, of a safety coordinator in California. This approach to the "profession" has become commonplace.

Every several months, I hear from a different colleague in plant operations about another employee or contractor who has suffered an amputation or crushing injury. They don't seek my guidance to help them avoid such injuries. They seek my guidance to help them avoid OSHA penalties.

My recommendation to build sustainable prevention systems always is the same, and the tools I offer them are always free. Without exception, they opt for the guidance of high paid consultants and attorneys in dodging OSHA citations. They also choose to reward local managers that contribute to the deception of compliance officers rather than holding them accountable for failed performance. The reward for one safety coordinator failing to implement lockout/tagout procedures, but succeeding in leading OSHA astray, included a lovely new dress to wear to the company's annual picnic.

"Seven Digit Dave" couldn't make the company picnic this year because he was recovering in the hospital, and he had been fired for the infamous catchall: "Failure to follow safety rules," which clearly was stated in the employee handbook that he had signed following his 2-hour company orientation.

Safety "professionals" failing to implement effective systems to prevent injury, and continuing to accept rewards for duping regulators, essentially are bargaining the health and safety of others tomorrow for a paycheck today. How Wimpy!

After many years in the profession, and having evaluated many programs, I rarely have seen a company develop a meaningful lockout/tagout process beyond the boilerplate written program. This often is due to a combination of management apathy, ineffectual OSHA enforcement, risk transfer via insurance and a compliance (vs. effectiveness) mentality. Another frequently cited reason for underperformance is the perceived burden of OSHA's Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) Standard. Many employers perceive the requirements to be complicated and overwhelming, especially if machine-specific procedures never were developed. …

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