Workplace Safety Training: Why it’s critical

Imagine this scenario: “Tom,” is a new employee in your plant’s maintenance department. As the plant supervisor, you ask “Joe,” your maintenance supervisor, to help Tom learn the job and show him the ropes. You specifically tell Joe, “Remember to show him how to de-energize the machines before he works on them.”

So Tom shadows Joe for a few weeks, helping him with several maintenance projects, including a number of machine repairs. Since he’s your maintenance supervisor, Joe always de-energizes the equipment. He ”gets it,” and he does a great job of telling Tom how important it is to de-energize the machinery before working on it.

After a few weeks on the job, Tom (who happens to be a quick study) is familiar with the plant, knows the machinery, and is sufficiently engaged and knowledgeable to handle a number of things on his own. One morning, just a few minutes before the first shift, your most important piece of equipment breaks down. Joe is on vacation, but Tom is well aware that losing this particular machine shuts down your entire assembly process, so he is on the spot to fix it. In his enthusiasm to prove himself, however, Tom forgets to de-energize the machine. He crawls between the back of the machine and the wall and removes the rear cover to expose its inner workings.

Now that the machine is open, Tom slips on his leather gloves, puts on a pair of goggles and uses a screwdriver to remove a few screws inside the machine. This allows him to reach the gear box, which he does successfully.  He notices that one of the gears – measuring 18” in circumference – is missing a couple of teeth, so he reaches in to start removing it. That’s when Phil, the machine operator for the first shift, hits the “start” button.

At that moment, Tom’s right hand has a good grip on top of the gear, his left hand is holding the bottom of the gear, and he is about to pull the entire gear toward him to remove it from its spindle. As the machine is started, the gear turns counter-clockwise. Before Tom can remove his hands, they are both caught between the defective gear and the two adjacent gears. As Tom’s hands are crushed, Phil can’t hear Tom’s screams over the motor. After a few seconds the machine jams and Phil scratches his head. He hits the “Stop” button and then hears Tom’s agonizing screams. Tom is rushed to the hospital, where doctors proceed to remove what’s left of his hands.

As is the case with any workplace injury, OSHA comes in to see what happened. Their inspectors learn that Joe trained Tom, that he showed Tom how to de-energize the machinery, and that he even emphasized how important it is to do so. They learn that there was even some discussion about using personal protective equipment, as evidenced by the fact that Tom was wearing gloves and safety glasses.

However, there is no documentation, meaning there is no evidence that your company provided formal training for any of your employees. Further, it’s clear to the OSHA inspectors that your firm doesn’t have a formal policy on de-energizing or otherwise disabling (think “lockout/tagout”) machinery before someone works on it.

The result of all this? Tom has lost both hands and is now unable to tie his shoes, much less hold a job. He will undergo countless surgeries, a lifetime of physical and occupational therapy, and his marriage and family will experience great stress. OSHA cites your company for a number of safety violations, imposing fines in the six-figures. And Tom sues your company for failing to train him adequately, which of course, results in his inability to earn a living. Based on his age at the time of the accident (31) and a lifetime of expected earnings, he is awarded several million dollars. And you’ve lost your job.

If you think this scenario is a stretch, think again. As in this fictional account, many employers equate “training” to “showing someone the ropes,” but it is far more than that. Specifically, OSHA expects that every employer will have a formal training program in place, along with formal policies and procedures related to workplace safety. OSHA also expects that every employee will be required by their employer to abide by those policies and procedures, and OSHA holds the employer accountable if the employee fails to do so.

Hopefully, this account has you thinking about your training program and whether it is adequate or not. If it is adequate, you are to be congratulated! However, if it is inadequate, you may have some work to do. As experts in workplace safety, Mitchell & Lindsey is here to help. Give us a call at (502) 682-8491 for a free consultation.

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