Your company might be in the energy, life science, manufacturing, industrial, or similar sector. However, if you employ or contract with engineers, it is also in the engineering industry. In many companies, engineers work machines on the factory floor or close to a production line, which puts them at risk. Another scenario is that they’re like the women in the Hidden Figures movie—aerospace engineers who worked out of the limelight to ensure the success of the Apollo and other space missions.
Like all employees, engineers need a safe working environment where risks are properly controlled. As their employer or contractor, you are primarily responsible for ensuring that their workspaces are free of hazards and health threats. However, because of their knowledge, engineers can also actively participate in your health and safety program.
Observation point: Engineers at risk
Most people associate engineers with math and computer-aided design. Yet, a great deal of their work includes observation. Engineers, especially industrial engineers, are largely charged with designing solutions that improve products and processes. It’s difficult to do that if you’re not familiar with the product or process. Engineers also conduct daily and weekly training, often demonstrating all PPE.
These daily tasks are what can put them most at risk. In the process of observation or training, they could encounter a physical, ergonomic, chemical, or biological hazard. For some, this is a double whammy—they are at risk because it is their responsibility to figure out and design ways to eliminate hazards. Examples include:
- Working at heights or on slippery surfaces: Engineers often travel to unfinished buildings and facilities that can be unsafe, resulting in falls that cause broken bones, paralysis, or death.
- Engineers in manufacturing plants are often exposed to loud noises over time, which can cause permanent and severe ringing in the ears and hearing loss.
- Corrosive chemicals: Chemical and biopharmaceutical engineers can be exposed to or touch corrosive chemicals that can permanently damage skin and cause blindness.
The good news is that engineers are also in the position to observe when other employees or workers are at risk from these hazards and others.
Job hazard analysis: Putting engineering knowledge to work
One way to identify the health and safety risks engineers might face on the job is to use a job hazard analysis. This technique exposes the dangers of specific tasks to reduce the risk of injuries by answering some basic questions:
- What can go wrong?
- How can it happen?
- How likely is it to happen?
- What is the severity?
- What are the consequences?
- What can be done to remove the hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level?
When conducting a job hazard analysis, you need to involve employees. Engineers are excellent candidates for this, not just as participants but as leaders, too. Engineers have a unique perspective on their job tasks—as well as those associated with their tasks—and you can tap into their knowledge to find hazards. Not only that, but they also keep oversight to a minimum, which helps ensure a quality analysis. Most importantly, they can get other workers to adopt the solutions to the hazards because they feel ownership in the process.
Expecting the best in health and safety, but preparing for otherwise
A job hazard analysis can only record what is hazardous for a particular activity or task. It does not answer questions like “What are the hazards we haven’t identified that might affect health and safety?” or “What do we do if an employee encounters a hazard or has an accident?” Engineers can help you consider what might could pose a threat to health and safety in the future so you can be prepared.
Engineers have skills that can help you with pre-incident investigation. They can figure out what your employees do, where they are, what tools they use, how much they move and so on. They can also let you know the hazards that could cause them to fall, get ill, or get hurt in some other way. Best of all, they have the process improvement skills needed to implement prevention.
How software can help you engage engineers in health and safety
EHS software offers you the opportunity to engage engineers while also keeping them safe. Engineers are often on the frontlines, but they are also in contact with your company’s leaders. EHS software enables them to collaborate with everyone about hazard prevention or mitigation. Engineers can also use it to collect and analyze incident data and share it in reports and dashboards. They can be instrumental in identifying incident patterns and issues that can help you reduce accidents with preventive measures.
Software and technology make it easy for engineers to contribute to your job hazard analysis, pre-incident investigations, and accident prevention by enabling them to:
- Identify each job step and define hazard and control measures for it
- Add photos, video, PPE, and actions
- Create a risk matrix for each step, highlighting those that are riskier
- Record job tasks on a smartphone or tablet in the field for reviewing and editing on the desktop
- Provide a centralized view for review and approval before sharing
- Create reports
Their rapport with everyone in your company can encourage more employees to use software to share hazards and help with pre-incident investigations. Involving everyone in the process is key to a healthy safety culture that reduces hazards by making it easy to spot and report them. With their help, you can engineer a world-class healthy and safety program.
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