What Will The Jury Think When They Learn You Skipped These 5 Basic Safety Steps?

Date: August 21, 2013

An internal safety audit helps keep dangers at bay.

At Artisan Graphic Group in Huntington Station, New York, partner Frank Colletti thinks about safety all the time. The firm makes architectural signage and fabricates displays for a range of industries, with 10 employees handling a powerful set of tools.

There are table saws, water jets, engravers, paint equipment: "Anything you can imagine that is dangerous, we have it here," Colletti says. "I don't care how shielded it is, how protected the machine is, if it has a moving part, someone will find a way to stick their hand in it."

Colletti is not alone. From slips-and-falls to loss of life or limb, workplaces can be dangerous. The first step toward containing the peril is a safety audit. Here's how to get started.

1. Take a walk around.

For a relatively low-risk operation, something like a clothing boutique, a safety review every six months might be plenty. Colletti, however, takes a tally every week, walking the shop floor and noting every instance of a potential hazard. He has no set formula, just an intimate knowledge of how things ought to look. "Basically what happens is, I see something that I don’t like or I feel it is unsafe, and then I bring everybody over and have a quick discussion as to why not to do that."

RELATED: Preventing Customer Falls 

2. Look at the big picture.

When taking a safety audit, don't start by tagging every cable on the floor or noting every misplaced wrench. Start with the big picture, suggests Matt McCreery, director of business development at Safety Resources in Indianapolis. "Anybody can fix the physical hazards. What's hard is looking at the safety culture," he says. McCreery usually takes several weeks up front just to talk to people about their safety perceptions, to observe managers in action, and to chart the systems and processes that go into ensuring safety. Only then will he get into the minutiae.

3. Ask those who know.

In taking an overview of the safety situation, start by polling those best positioned to understand the lay of the land: Your employees. The National Safety Council recommends an employee safety-perception survey as a way to identify problems, while also increasing employee involvement and generating greater awareness of safety issues.

RELATED: Safe on-the-job driving 

4. Assign an auditor—inside, outside, or both.

A small business can hire an outside consultant to perform a safety audit, and there's much to be said for that. These people have expertise the business owner may lack, and they can work without the distraction of having to run the business day to day. An in-house safety auditor, on the other hand, will already be familiar with the operation, may have a close working relationship with employees, and likely will cost you less. Who performs an internal audit? It can be the safety manager, if you have one, says Kevin Simons, general manager at small business services outsourcer ADP TotalSource. It should be someone with high organizational and problem-solving skills. Another option: Put a team of two to four on the task, to share the workload and ensure nothing gets overlooked.

5. Give it teeth.

At the end of the day, the audit ought to result in positive change. Just as any good audit begins with a review of overall culture, it ought to end with a set of wide-ranging policies: Not just procedures for wiping down counters but also explicit consequences for those who lag behind on the safety front. For employees who cannot follow the newly formed rules, "you need to have some type of system where you are writing people up," McCreery says. Verbal cautions, written warnings: Safety protocols require follow-through. "The program needs to have teeth."

RELATED: Workers’ Comp 101


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