Protect the health and safety of your employees

Facility managers are often the unsung heroes of an organization. Their importance cannot be underestimated, especially since the global facilities management market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.36% through 2027.

A facilities manager’s responsibilities are vast – covering everything from building maintenance and inspection to space management and security. Occupational health and safety (OHS) also falls within the facilities management area. This article will provide a brief overview of four strategies facility managers can use to ensure employee safety and health.

1. Build a solid foundation

Something as important as the health and safety of employees requires a management system with a solid foundation. A facility manager must ensure that the OHS management system is firmly based on the Deming Cycle, otherwise known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act, or PDCA Cycle. The versatility and simplicity of PDCA explains its enduring popularity in all industries.

A sound OHS management system not only ensures worker health and safety but can also mean the difference between life and death. Poor health and safety standards have led to many industrial disasters, including a major explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas in 2005, which killed 15 people, injured 180, and caused US$3 billion in damages and legal settlements. A 2020 study of the disaster concluded that a sub-standard Process Safety Management (PSM) system at the refinery was the main cause of the fatal explosion.

An even more devastating industrial disaster was the August 2020 explosion in the Lebanese city of Beirut. The event killed at least 218 people (most of them outside the port where the explosion occurred), injured 7,000, and cost $15 billion. In property damage. The major cause of the explosion was poor storage of explosives and hazardous chemicals.

2. Increase the paper trail

Documentation can be the bane of any facility manager’s working life, but it provides evidence of what has been done and needs to be done. Consider documenting a paper trail of your OHS management system. Importantly, it should be the golden thread that links all the components of the OHS system.

Policies and procedures are important to ensure worker health and safety. Work instructions can tell workers how to perform specific tasks, such as how to safely use an angle grinder in a tool factory or what personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear to limit inhalation of silica dust on a construction site.

Importantly, all documents need to be aligned with prevailing legal requirements. For example, as proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in late 2021, your organization may need to keep track of evolving regulations regarding indoor and outdoor workers exposed to hazardous heat.

3. Facilitation of communication

Health and safety is very personal to any employee, especially those who work in hazardous locations or perform hazardous tasks. Any well-trained and risk-aware employee will know all too well when their health or safety is at risk. A facility manager must therefore help facilitate open communication at all levels of the organization, in which employees feel free to express opinions and concerns regarding health and safety.

A great way to open up communication is to foster intergenerational communication, so often overlooked in workplaces. Different generations may have different health and safety concerns. For example, younger workers may need more hands-on guidance regarding safety measures, while older workers may be more concerned about long-term health risks associated with the job. A millennial facility manager does well to remember this when dealing with baby boomers in management and Generation X and Generation Z colleagues and employees.

4. Promote a health and safety culture

Although corporate culture is very difficult to pin down, anyone can tell the difference between a great corporate culture and a bad one. Health and safety is no different. Commitment to health and safety must be embedded within the organization, starting from the top and driven. In the words of WorkSafe Queensland: “For a safety culture to be successful it needs to be led from the top – that is, a safety culture needs to be embraced and practiced by the CEO and senior managers.”

Mentoring is another great way to build a health and safety culture based on communication and mutual trust, as well as personal development. Novartis, the American-Swiss pharmaceutical giant, was concerned about the lack of personal growth of certain employees. It implemented a successful mentoring program with an emphasis on cross-functional and cross-country pairing of employees.

Make employee health and safety a priority

Facility managers must juggle multiple functions. The advent of smart technology and post-COVID-19 workplace demands by customers and employees make managers’ jobs even more complex, making it even more complex. But no matter how complex their workload, protecting the health and safety of their employees remains important to any facility manager. Beyond having a duty of care, it’s just the right thing to do.

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