Safety is of prime importance for companies dealing with HVAC systems. Maintaining and repairing boilers, pumps, heating machinery and other equipment involves a high amount of risk. Plumbing and other technicians invariably face major hazards such as burns, scalding, asphyxiation, slips, trips, falls, and more during the course of their day-to-day work.
The timeless adage “better safe than sorry” holds especially true for the HVAC and plumbing technicians. An understanding of the risks involved, and working in a way that eliminates the risks is the time-tested best practice industry. However, while most people understand the importance of safety, the perception of safety differs.
The Need for Safety Documentation
A well-documented safety policy, written down in unambiguous terms is essential to ensure workplace safety, and ensure there is no ambiguity in safety-related issues. Documenting the safety essentials and best practices:
- Offer a comprehensive view of all the safety factors involved, allowing the workforce to take cognizance of everything required without missing some aspect
- Help to thread a wider picture to the security regulations in force, beyond piecemeal safety initiatives.
- Offers a ready-reckoner and guide, to enable the implementation and enforcement of the laid down security protocols.
- Remove misunderstanding and clarify expectations in unambiguous terms. A clear and concise document which lays down all the safety protocols to be followed in specific detail renders clarity on the safe course of operations and work.
- The onus is on the employer to ensure the employees are aware of the written regulations.
- Enable employee buy-in, critical to the success of any safety initiatives. The clarity and transparency a written program offers convince employees of the merits of the initiatives.
- Further statistics and analytics. Written safety programs also make it easier to maintain and improve safety records, such as OSHA incidence rate and EMR. Maintaining such stats may be a statutory requirement, and even constitute a good marketing pitch.
Key Ingredients of a Written Safety Program
The ingredients of a written safety program depend on the specific nature of the business, and the regulatory standards in place.
In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 mandates employers to provide employees with a place of employment free from hazards that may cause death or serious harm. There are several industry-specific standards as well. Besides, several organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association also publish standards addressing a variety of workplace hazards. For instance, the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which ensures compliance with OSHA standards for electrical safety, applies to HVAC technicians and electricians.
A written safety manual for HVAC and plumbing contractors would ideally consist of the safety procedures related to HazCom, Heat and Cold Stress, chemicals and hazardous materials used at the facility, spray painting safety, grinders, guidelines for personal protective equipment, scaffolding safety, ladder safety, cranes and hoists, welding and brazing safety, vehicle safety, regulations in confined spaces, and much more. This listing is by no means exhaustive. A comprehensive list of inclusions require determining the hazards that exist in the workplace.
The best-written safety program is dynamic, reviewed and updated periodically, to factor in all changes to OSHA standards, regulatory requirements, and changes in technology.
How to Implement Safety Protocols
The key to implementing safety in HVAC and plumbing operations is having adequate resources, including safety equipment in place, documenting the best way to approach a task, and ensuring a mechanism to implement the requirements. Above all, improving workforce safety through a written safety program requires focused initiatives.
The best documentation is detailed, specific, and caters to all eventualities. For instance, it lays down the provision four people should be used to move a load of 1000 kilos. Attempting to move the load with a lesser number of people run the risk of injury to the workers and the load dropping and being damaged. Likewise, too many hands may also result in trips, falls, and would be equally unsafe.
A good example is EMCOR’s “Be There for Life! Zero Accident Program” and the “Changing the Way We Work Program.” These programs educate workers about complying with safety practices and enhance the quality of their work. Through these initiatives, the company reduced shop floor injuries by about 66% between 2003 and 2009 and has been achieving manifold improvements in safety on a consistent basis. Documentation is central to communicate such initiatives to the workforce. The core of EMCOR’s initiatives, for instance, is an intensive program of communication and education.
A written safety program also improves training and awareness. Apart from safety manuals which work as a practical guide, monthly newsletters for general education and awareness, circulars highlighting changes and new practices, and more also go a long way toward improving overall safety. For example, unless the worker is convinced of the importance of wearing gloves and safety goggles, they would not do it, regardless of any documentation to the effect. Regular training programs and awareness interventions go a long way in boosting enforceability.
The ideal written safety programs is a working document and should not gather dust on a shelf. Digital copies of the safety manuals and protocols, in the form of easily consumable ebooks. Dynamic mobile apps and other convenient tools further the cause even more.
Failure to follow safety requirements is inviting trouble. Unless there is a coherent and documented safety policy in place, it is only a matter of time before some employee violates basic safety precautions and causes a catastrophic accident. The consequences of an accident can be severe for the company, ranging from fines to workman’s compensation and from poor PR to even a shutdown of the plant.
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