August Mack Newsletter | November, 2017

Sustainability in the Workforce...Making Safety Your Culture
by Scott Pfeiffer

Sustainability science is an emerging field that deals with the interactions between natural and social systems, and how they interact. While we don’t think of sustainability in relation to workers, they remain one of the natural social systems we can influence by changing the way we think about the problem of safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formally started in 1971. Over the years, significant strides have led to a 66% reduction in work place fatalities; during the same time, the work force nearly doubled (according to the U. S. Department of Labor). However, annually there are still nearly 5,000 people who didn’t go home because of a death on the job, not to mention thousands of injuries. In fact, from 2003 to 2015, the number of work place occupational injuries resulting in death has remained nearly the same. It is the primary role of OSHA to address, administer, and enforce safe working conditions so that these numbers can be reduced. The question is, why have they remained stagnate?  

The primary vehicle for OSHA is training and inspection. At the risk of being overly simplistic, the key to safety is:

1 – Know the rules to do your job safely.

2 – Obey the rules to do your job safely.

3 – Document your employee safety training, and related issues to safety.

Simple enough, but this is where “safety culture” comes in. Going from having to “work safe” to “valuing safety” above everything else during all work activities. This means in the shop or at home. When I refer to culture I am talking about not only “understanding” what the safe practice is (how to do it), but having the awareness of safety issues at all times. It is the mindset that it is up to me to never allow anything to get between safe practices, whether it is my own practice or a coworker. I believe the rules for safe work in accordance with OSHA regulation isn’t what makes us unsafe on the job. It is the pressure we feel to get the job done quickly (time), do it with the least hassle (comfort), and getting complacent by thinking “that will never happen to me”.   

Time pressures, for example, make it tempting to reach way over on a ladder rather than taking the time to get down and move it. The comfort factor has come into play in my own safety practice regarding proper PPE. Being complacent says, “I didn’t have a problem before, so I am fine now.” For example, several years ago when I would enter a production floor without eye protection, steel-toed boots, or a hard hat, I was glad if the escort didn’t say anything. My internal thoughts were, “that stuff is a pain to put on, it’s uncomfortable, and nothing has ever happened in the past so I’ll be fine”.

So time, comfort, and being complacent need to have a counterweight that will push our actions in the direction of being motivated to do what we have been trained to do. To be safe. This is what I mean by a culture of safety. Always being aware, and always watching out.

There are very simple steps that can be taken. First, safety must become the most important aspect of your facility or company. Everyone must buy into this. At August Mack, we committed to building a safety culture. Beginning in January 2013 we did just that. This is where we went beyond the training, policy, medical evaluations, drug testing, and documentation to build a culture within the company where employees take safety as the most import thing. We started with an imperative concept that nothing is more important than safety, and created a catchy phrase to drive this home. We picked “Take 5 for Safety.” This is a simple five step awareness program to consider everything we were about to do at our job. Before starting any work we “Take 5,” and walk through these five steps to prevent accidents.

1 - Stop, step back and observe the work area.

2 – Walk through the task.

3 – Identify hazards.

4 – Control and communicate the hazards.

5 – Safely complete the task.

We have added a second phrase, “Go Home in One PIECE.” “PIECE” stands for Pause, Identify, Explain, Control, and Execute. The idea is to go home in one piece. Think about the consequences of not returning home. When this really sets in we understand why it is imperative to take the time and effort to know how to work safely, and to execute the work safely, which includes looking out for each other.

In addition to having a great safety campaign and ongoing training program, we initiated several simple awareness tasks that all employees had to participate in. They included a weekly safety call where a safety topic is discussed over a conference call to all employees. It takes about five to ten minutes. We had a required weekly safety observation. Everyone had to document something observed on the road, in the workplace, or even at home that was a safe or an unsafe condition or action. Third, we established a policy of having a safety topic discussed at the opening of every meeting with three or more people.

Safety is a proactive activity. At first, I struggled to find a weekly observation. Most of my unsafe time is spent in a car driving from one client to another. As I started looking (awareness) for anything, I soon became so aware of what everyone around me was doing. I was watching out, and helping eliminate possible unsafe conditions. 

To further develop this idea of awareness, I have a challenge for you. First I want you to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on how safe you think you are. 1 being nearly dead every day, and 10 invincible.

This is a test to see how safe you are. Just answer the simple questions.

1 – Do you drive beyond the speed limit?

2 – Do you use a ladder without getting down to move it instead of reaching?

3 – Do you use power tools without PPE at home?

4 - Have you ever used a chair to change a light bulb?

5 – Do you ever TEXT and drive?

6 – Do you look at email while driving?

7 – Do you eat and drive?

8 – Do you mix cleaning chemicals?

9 – Do you accelerate when a traffic signal turns yellow?

These are everyday actions that we have all most likely done, and they can all lead to serious accidents. An accident at home is no less disruptive to the work place than an accident at work.  Ask yourself why we do these, and it always comes down to what we discussed at the start. Saving time, and wanting to be comfortable, or being complacent.

The question is, are you a different person at work? Of course not. When the day gets long we tend to go to the same tendencies we have in our own time. That is to save time, cut corners, and be as comfortable as possible. But when we are constantly aware of safety as a core value we, don’t give in to the temptation to cut corners. Why? Because we value safety, more than comfort. We value the safety of others more than possibly making someone angry because we challenged their actions.

Now let’s conclude with a simple thought experiment. Hang in there with me, this may challenge you a little. Suppose you met someone today who said to you they were going to come over to your house tonight at 6 PM and hurt one of your kids, wife, or husband. Stick with me. So what do you know? First, there is a real danger. Second, there is a set time. And finally, there is someone you love dearly that is at risk. Time, comfort, and being complacent don’t even come into play. In other words, the most valuable thing, you and your family, dictate awareness and actions. No one I know would allow anything to get in the way of protecting his or her loved ones. You would leave early to make sure you would be home before 6 PM. You would be prepared to protect your family because that would be most important. When we can have the same value for safety in all aspects of our life, perhaps we can eliminate needless lost time accidents, insurance costs, and fatalities to better sustain our work and our very future.


Scott Pfeiffer is a Business Development Representative based in the Lewis Center, Ohio office. Scott has over 30 years helping industries with environmental and health compliance issues, OSHA safety compliance, and remedial construction needs. Scott specializes in connecting clients with the right people and solutions for their need. Scott can best be reached at 740-548-1500 or spfeiffer@augustmack.com.


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