Accepting Change is Necessary to Improve Safety

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Both employees and management may resist changes necessary to improve safety and keep OSHA at bay.

Aw 27571 Safety

One of the hardest things to do is to implement change. Any form of change seems to be met with different degrees of resistance. The amount of opposition may stem from previous failed attempts or because of who is implementing the change or what is being changed.

When we talk about implementing machine safety, both employees and management may oppose changes. Business owners and management have said to me: “That machine has run forever and no one was ever hurt. The machine is safe, so we’ll just let it alone.”

The reality is that nothing is free of danger and we can always make things safer. Safety is best defined as a judgment of the acceptability of risk.

We all fear the unknown; it is an innate defense mechanism. We let fear of the unknown become the rationale for not giving change a chance. Even uttering the name OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) scares many business owners and managers. Many companies fear the day OSHA comes knocking on their door, not because they are trying to hide anything, but because of a misunderstanding about how OSHA works.

The fear of OSHA exists mostly in the worry that the proposed change might make things worse. This fear causes owners and managers to place roadblocks in the movement toward change—a change they may just not see the need for.

Given these realities, it's helpful to keep in mind what OSHA regulations (or standards) require employers to do:

  • Maintain conditions and/or adopt practices that are necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job.
  • Be familiar with and comply with standards that are applicable to their establishments.
  • Ensure that employees have and use the proper personal protective equipment when required for safety and health.

The bottom line for safety is to be proactive and not reactive. A good safety rollout has to start at the top and needs to become the core value within the organization. Introduce safety committees with managers and factory employees as part of the committee. Everyone is accountable—from the employees, to the supervisors, to the top executives. The ultimate goal is for every employee to arrive safely at home every night.

Rick Carpenter is a functional safety engineer at Loman Control Systems Inc., based in Lititz, Pa. Loman Controls is a Certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Loman Control Systems' profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange. 

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