Working at a water or wastewater treatment plant requires an understanding of safety that goes beyond the typical health-and-safety manual.

The fact of the matter is for most workplace injuries that occur day-in and day-out, the health and safety manual may be the least effective component of injury reduction. Rarely, if ever, does an employee consult it before pulling a motor on a pump or entering a chemical room where polymer has dripped on the floor.

As managers, we should deploy best practices to avert the risks plant operators and maintenance personnel routinely face.

Injuries at Veolia Water North America over an 18-month period.
Credit: VWNA Injuries at Veolia Water North America over an 18-month period.

Reviewing the numbers

You can begin by summarizing causal codes for OSHA recordable cases (simply defined as injuries requiring more than first aid).

Table 1 is a review of injuries occurring at Veolia Water North America (VWNA) municipal projects over an 18-month period. VWNA provides comprehensive water and wastewater partnership services, working in about 550 communities and more than 100 industrial facilities. The company is part of the Veolia Environment companies and has 10,000 North American employees.

Here’s how the typical safety manual’s table of contents addresses these top three causal codes.

In 2012, Veolia’s safety record outperformed those of comparable utilities for the sixth consecutive year. With a keen focus on the top three causal codes, while being mindful of all injury causes, the following steps and measures contributed to a 37% reduction in our OSHA recordable incidence rate between 2007 and 2012.

Expand training and communications to include “take-home” messages and practices. Employees who have good safety attitudes and understand safe practices are safe at home and work.

An “eyes and mind on task” philosophy shouldn’t shut down at the end of a shift. This safety behavior, designed to prevent a slip-and-fall in the maintenance shop, for example, can keep a similar incident from happening on a wet garage floor or stairway at home. Likewise, a safe lifting technique should become the norm for approaching heavy and awkward lifts outside the workplace.

A typical safety manual’s table of contents.
A typical safety manual’s table of contents.

It’s not only about developing safe work practices; it’s about developing a safe lifestyle.

Offer a wellness program to reduce lifestyle-related risk factors. Evidence suggests that overall employee health, safety, and well-being are strongly connected. Organizations that educate and encourage employees to manage their health produce a vibrant, engaged, and highly performing workforce. Safety is a state of mind. Employees who are physically and mentally fit are less likely to be injured when compared to their less fit counterparts.

Keep the momentum going by including health, safety, and wellness messages in routine communications, opening meetings with a “safety moment,” and celebrating milestones.

Provide healthy food and beverage options at work events. Since the environment in which we work influences our lifestyle choices, you can promote healthy alternatives.

Manual labor is often as intensive as working out. Properly fueling your body ensures your ability to maximize your energy use and maintain a positive attitude.

Create programs that identify, share, and correct near-misses, unsafe acts, and unsafe conditions. Such a program:

  • Empowers everyone to proactively correct problems;
  • Shines a light on possible safety issues before an incident occurs;
  • Enables resolution of safety issues in a timely manner;
  • Communicates safety concerns to all employees;
  • Focuses on the positive; i.e., the number of corrective actions taken.