The Four Pillars of Safety
An Approach to Strengthening Your Safety Foundation
By Tim Van Hoecke
Sr. Program Manager, Safety, North America
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Most organizations currently have some sort of safety program in place. Whether you are working in a small administrative office for a corporation or stocking supermarket shelves, hazards and risks exist that need to be identified and addressed to ensure employee, facility and environmental safety.
Workplace hazards can present unique and sometimes extreme challenges for workers involved in various laboratory environments, such as chemical, biotech, industrial and academic settings. There are many issues to consider when developing an effective plan to comprehensively protect people and property while managing costs and profits.
How Strong Is Your Foundation?
When evaluating the strength of your safety foundation, ask yourself the following questions:
- What resources comprise your organization’s safety foundation?
- Do you have a dedicated safety representative or manager?
- Has a full hazard assessment been completed, and is there a hazards communication (HazCom) plan in place?
- Have you identified any changes that would reduce or control hazards?
- Do you have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) available?
- Who responds in an emergency?
To effectively build on your existing foundation, you will need a sound plan and specific strategies to accomplish any desired improvements. We recommend an approach that we refer to as the “Four Pillars of Safety” — prepare, prevent, protect and respond — to help ensure that your people and facilities are safer and more productive.
Regulations require employers to be prepared by providing a safe work environment, approved safety equipment and effective training. To be properly prepared, first observe and understand workplace processes, the duration of hazard exposures, and the processes where risk could be reduced through engineering or administrative controls.
If this sounds like an audit, you’re exactly right! Consider the prepare pillar as a regular check of your “foundation” to look for “cracks” or “structural deficiencies.” Effective auditing takes time, resources (both money and staff), and a comprehensive system. Recent innovations in safety auditing software allow for more frequent, uniform and comprehensive auditing. A review of recent incidents can also be used to identify training gaps. Effective training is another area that requires resources, expertise and management support. Your Fisher Scientific Safety Specialist can help you build on your safety foundation with cutting-edge auditing and training solutions.
After following the prepare pillar philosophy and conducting hazard assessments, audits and training, you may have uncovered some cracks in your safety foundation. Preventive measures can help you fill some of those gaps and may include improvements in signage, storage cabinets, work area organization and ergonomics, cleaning materials, or waste disposal. It’s important to choose the highest level of protection when determining the best preventative equipment or solutions for your organization. That’s why we work closely with industry experts to provide affordable hazard assessments for chemical handling and storage, HazCom labeling, eyewash and safety shower placement, and other safety solutions to protect your facility and employees.
With the prepare and prevent pillars clearly established, it’s time to face the challenges of the all-important protect pillar. Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes eye, hand and body protection, and involves the critically important step of identifying, addressing and managing respiratory hazards. PPE is the last line of defense for employees. The correct PPE must always be available and worn properly in order for it to protect workers from any remaining hazards. PPE selection should always be based on necessary levels of protection and any applicable ANSI standard requirements.
Train employees on the proper use, fit, limitations and maintenance of PPE, and enforce its use. Rely on your Fisher Scientific Sales Representatives and our supplier partners to assist you in selecting the PPE that will protect what matters most — your people.
Lastly, if the first three pillars have been well constructed, the respond pillar may require infrequent use. But even the best intentions and thorough planning will not always prevent hazards that need to be mitigated quickly and properly, like an injury, acute medical condition (e.g. a heart attack), or a hazardous material spill. Response products identified during the prepare, prevent, and protect steps include AEDs, first-aid kits, spill-control materials, fire blankets and extinguishers, and eyewash stations or emergency showers. Keep response equipment properly stored and maintained, and train personnel to be ready to use them as needed. We’re here to advise you if you have any questions about maintenance or strategic placement of these critical items.
Your safety foundation should be strong and broad enough to meet the challenges and changes that encompass your organization’s processes and goals. New employees and updated compliance regulations and requirements may require more training and auditing, so it’s important to perform regular inspections. Above all, make sure that your safety equipment and service provider proactively works for you to strengthen your safety foundation. The Fisher Scientific Safety Team and the resources we provide can help you prepare, prevent, protect and respond, allowing you to build a safety foundation that positively impacts your safety program, employees and the bottom line.