Weighing in on what works best for workplace safety

Brian Pedersen//September 30, 2019

Weighing in on what works best for workplace safety

Brian Pedersen//September 30, 2019

Ever wonder how to get your employees engaged about safety?

A best practices workshop on workplace safety hosted by Lehigh Valley Health Network last week allowed participants to share what works best for their companies. (Photo by Brian Pedersen) –

Why not step in the shoes of those who are on the production floor and ask them? Or sit on the forklift for a bit and gain the perspective of the driver who may not easily be able to see who’s coming and going, setting up the potential for an accident.

It’s these types of steps that employers say can make a huge difference in how employees prioritize safety.

Companies got the chance to share some of these ideas and more at a recent best practices workshop hosted by Lehigh Valley Health Network in its Mack Building Auditorium in Allentown.

Often, companies do not get the opportunity to learn from other companies on what works best in improving safety in the workplace.

At this event, they got the chance.

With more than 80 people in attendance, participants spent time gathered in small groups for trivia games and discussions that allowed people from a variety of companies to discuss their challenges and successes in addressing workplace hazards.

Officials from the federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration office presented the free workshop as a way to help other companies learn new ideas on addressing safety.

With a goal of making the program more interactive and less standard lecture format, the organization divided the day’s workshop into segments that included identifying safety hazards from photos, and trivia games with true or false questions, and discussions on safety and health challenges.

“We’ve got to start cutting down our injuries and illnesses and even workplace fatalities,” said Scott Shimandle, compliance assistance specialist and industrial hygienist for OSHA. “Sharing what other companies are doing goes a long way to achieving that effort.”

In speaking to the audience, Shimandle said employee engagement in safety and health is the most important issue for their organizations.

The groups discussed employee engagement, what they are doing to improve it in their organizations, and the successes and challenges they’ve encountered.

The workshop also allows participants the chance to learn what the Voluntary Protection Programs are, which are open to private sector and federal agency worksites in most industries where OSHA has jurisdiction. Through the VPP, OSHA recognizes workplaces with excellent safety and health management systems and promotes them as model workplaces.

While the best practices workshop is open to all industries, it mainly focuses on those where safety is a more prominent, significant factor in daily work, such as manufacturing, construction and distribution.

Those industries tend to have a higher list of things that could go wrong, said Scott Appnel, manager of business development for HealthWorks Occupational Medicine at Populytics of Allentown.

Many Lehigh Valley employers had employees enrolled for the event, including Crayola, Air Products, Weis Markets, Victaulic, Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, Alvin H. Butz, UGI and Boston Beer Co.

Several participants shared details of what worked for them. They discussed the importance of knowing your company’s culture, having the employees do the safety inspections so they can take ownership, and conducting pre-shift meetings so employees know what the safety goals are for that day.

Others said it was important to lead by example and wear the safety gloves, helmets and goggles in the workplace that you expect the employees to wear. Another speaker shared the importance of being aware of language differences and making sure to communicate the safety rules and regulations to employees in a way they can understand.

Others talked about the importance of not running out of safety supplies and having a vending machine available for employees to take new safety gear as needed.

Another speaker talked about how doing an employer perception survey helps employers gain a great deal of improvement on its safety goals.

When upper management can step into the shoes of those on the shop floor and ask them how they go about performing their jobs safely, it can help them gain respect, one of the speakers added. They will also be more apt to change if management can spend some time in their shoes.

Others expressed concerns about why older workers were not taking the younger employees under their wing, while another shared concerns about how a small, rapidly growing company can quickly amend its safety program to fit the growing company.

Others talked about how to engage an aging workforce and the power of incentives in encouraging employees to follow safety rules.

Ray Delfing, environmental health and safety manager for Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., a waste to energy facility in Morrisville, said he helped put the workshop together.

“It’s a good opportunity to get together with people from different industries that you wouldn’t otherwise and just share ideas,” Delfing said. “We’ve got an incentive program that’s based on their [employees] observing of hazards and rectifying them.”

The company rewards the employees with money, but in addition, their ideas for improving safety are moved through the company and people vote on the best one, so employees can win awards for their department.

“That helps with the employee engagement and the motivation within the department,” Delfing said.

UGI has a lot of diverse people and at this workshop, there’s a lot of information that people from the company can use across the board, said Jacque Creamer Jr., safety facilitator at UGI Utilities Inc. in Bethlehem.

“It helps us all,” Creamer said. “It’s nice to pick up and place a face and name together,” Creamer said. “They’ve helped me over the years and it’s been a great experience.”

The workshop offers so many different perspectives and people get to share their successes, which is what companies want to get out of the program, said Kenneth Mueller, a safety manager at Knoll, a manufacturer in East Greenville.