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How Do I Choose the Best Safety Materials?

By M.J. Casey
Updated May 17, 2024
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The best safety materials are those that address the greatest risk factors. The safety manager must evaluate the risks posed by the operation, understand the skills and knowledge of the people performing the operation, and study historic and similar industrial experiences. A multidisciplinary approach helps ensure that risks from a number of different sources are assessed.

To evaluate an operation for safety risks, four major areas must be examined. Individual work spaces and the facility in general are screened for obstacles, tripping hazards, mechanical gear, and poor lighting. Risks due to the operation when running under approved operating parameters must be noted. A separate list of risks inherent in operations outside of operating limits is made. Finally, risks due to worker inexperience, lack of training, lack of discipline, or personal issues should be compiled.

Safety materials fall into several different types. The first is literature, film, recordings, or other media that inform, instruct, or warn. This type includes safety manuals, operating procedures, written directions, and training films.

The second type is first-aid oriented. Materials of this sort include eye-wash stations, first-aid kits, and emergency showers. Prevention supplies fall in the third category: protective gloves, harnesses, and safety boots are examples. The fourth type is communications gear and includes two-way radios, phones, and alarms.

The final type is industry-specific mitigation supplies. This specialized type covers antidotes, defibrillators, and oxygen tanks. These materials are typically customized for a specific operation.

The safety manager compiles a matrix of risk areas versus safety material types. This grid can help the manager evaluate what safety materials are appropriate for each type of risk. This exercise will also help avoid gaps in safety planning. For example, a remote worker may handle a harmful material and be provided with training, protective gear, and an antidote. The grid may remind the manager that a radio should also be available.

The risks created by an operation running out of normal operating parameters may represent the greatest danger to personnel. A team approach is helpful in evaluating these risks. The team should include technical experts who themselves are versed in different specialties that cover the operation. A chemical plant may require experts in chemical engineering, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and industrial engineering, while an ore-crushing operation may not require any input from chemical engineers or chemists, but would benefit from the knowledge of a mining engineer.

The safety team should also include operators and technicians from the line. Accident and operating logs should be consulted to learn from history. Outside consultants may be useful in providing a broad historical base. Representatives from the team may wish to visit other similar facilities to exchange information.

The best safety materials are never purchased. Instead, they are found in management’s promotion of safe work habits, peer-to-peer concern, and front-line supervision awareness. A systematic approach to safety provides a rational argument for the procurement of the most appropriate safety materials.

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