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Walkabout: To gain invaluable info observe, listen closely to employees
Don't hesitate to "get out on the floor"
If employees routinely put themselves at risk for injury by lifting improperly just to get a job done as quickly as possible, how would you know about this?
Michelle L. McCarthy, RN, COHN, on-site medical case manager for Genex Services in Wayne, PA, says she has learned about dangerous shortcuts several times, just by walking around talking to employees.
"One of the most effective ways that I have found to obtain this information is just being available," says McCarthy.
Improper lifting is a common problem. "With a majority of our associates being on production, they worry about getting the job done as quickly as possible by whatever means," McCarthy says. "Sometimes this is difficult, if cases are stacked really high or low."
Workers will take shortcuts such as grabbing as many cases as possible instead of only one. They may jump to grab a case instead of using a pull hook, or lean over to grab a low-lying case instead of bending at the knees.
Seeing this first-hand allowed McCarthy to make changes such as providing additional pull hooks, lowering or lifting racks, installing roller bars, and using nets to catch light but bulky cases.
Don't wait for injury
Workers can and will tell you how to make the workplace safer, but only if they are asked. "An occupational health professional does not have to wait for an injury to occur to get out on the floor," says Peggy Ann Berry, MSN, RN, COHN-S, SPHR, president of the Ohio Association of Occupational Health Nurses. "The idea is prevention of injuries and illnesses of the employee."
You may be surprised, for example, what you learn by making daily rounds. "It doesn't matter if it is on the factory floor or office. No one knows the job, and the injuries that can occur from that job, better than the employee doing the job," says Berry.
Berry says that while she's asking how an employee is doing on the job, workers sometimes tell her about their health concerns. "Knowing what is going on personally with that employee will better direct case management needs for any future injury and medical leave," says Berry.
During Berry's walkthroughs, workers have asked questions about medical procedures, immunizations, how to control blood pressure, and how to access healthcare benefits.
While long-term employees can tell you how they meet safety requirements, new hires are likely to learn something from you. "When talking with the new folks, they are more apt to ask questions about why processes are set up the way they are," says McCarthy. Injured employees also have valuable information to share, and may tell you they got hurt because of poor lifting technique or faulty equipment.
To obtain input from employees, use these approaches:
Give workers a specific time to give input.
For example, have a safety team meet monthly during each shift. "It is a time where the associates can talk freely about their concerns and offer recommendations," says McCarthy.
She also suggests pulling a representative from a certain shift or area to talk about safety concerns. "These issues should be taken very seriously, and posted for everyone to see, along with management responses," says McCarthy.
Look for hazards.
McCarthy says, "As I am walking through the building, I can recognize hazards that the associates take for granted because they have become accustomed to being around them."
For example, she's seen workers driving or walking over debris, such as wood or plastic wrap. "This is a problem because it can cause slips, trips, and falls. This debris can also get caught in equipment, causing it to malfunction or break," says McCarthy.
Also, when wood breaks on a pallet, there can be large splinters or nails sticking out. "If they don't take the time to report the issue and get a new pallet, each person that passes is at risk of injury," says McCarthy.
If McCarthy notices hazards like these, she stops to discuss the safety issues with employees. "I point out why prevention or extra attention is important, and demonstrate or educate them on proper lifting, carrying, or ergonomics," she says. "This is also an opportunity to come upon them to see what they 'really' do when they don't think anyone is looking."
McCarthy often sees associates lifting with one arm or lifting multiple cases at once. "Or, I see them 'swinging' cases and twisting at their waist, instead of leading with their feet and turning their legs to prevent back injuries," she says.
For more information on obtaining input from employees, contact:
Peggy Ann Berry, MSN, RN, COHN-S, SPHR, President, Ohio Association of Occupational Health Nurses. Phone: (937) 304-4922. Fax: (937) 436-0128. E-mail: email@example.com.
Michelle L. McCarthy, RN, COHN, On-Site Medical Case Manager, Genex Services, Wayne, PA. Phone: (770) 266-4922. Fax: (770) 266-4869. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org