Worker participation in preventing safety mishaps key: CSB

A lack of effective worker participation in process safety efforts heightens the risk of employee injuries and serious safety incidents, according to a new report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Worker participation is an “essential element” to improve process safety and prevent chemical incidents and is required by several existing federal safety regulations, including the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s process safety management standard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s risk management program rule and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s safety and environmental management systems rule for offshore oil and gas operations, according to the CSB’s report published on Wednesday. But CSB incident investigations have identified missed opportunities for workers to effectively participate in process safety activities at facilities where they work, typically in proximity to the most serious hazards, according to the report.

“A lack of effective worker participation can lead to an increase in the risk of injury to workers and, in the event of a serious safety incident, can adversely impact the company and members of the public who live near these industrial facilities,” the report stated.

For example, in a 2010 refinery fire and explosion, the CSB’s investigation found that employees and their union expressed concerns about the unit that eventually ignited that were not adequately addressed by company managers leading up to the incident and that workers had noted 31 near-miss incidents with the unit during the previous five years.

Effective worker participation programs allow workers to participate in matters pertaining to process safety in many ways, including in developing the initial program design, forming labor/management safety committees and/or process safety committees and reporting incidents – including near misses – so they can be investigated and their underlying causes corrected, according to the report. Other ways for employees to effectively participate include analyzing hazards associated with routine and nonroutine jobs, tasks and processes, defining and documenting safe work practices, conducting site inspections and incident investigations, training workers and new hires and evaluating program performance and identifying ways to improve it, according to the report.

“Worker participation is essential to improving process safety and preventing incidents at facilities with hazardous chemicals,” the CSB stated.

This article was first published by Business Insurance.

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