“Stop playing dumb”

By Craig Carlyle, director at Maintenance Transformations

The health and safety statute describes our responsibilities “at work” and the related regulations describe what needs to be done to satisfy those responsibilities. Heck, there are even a stack of best practice guidelines, codes of practice, fact sheets, and standards to help the uninitiated get it right.

So, it should be straightforward to make an honest attempt at providing safer work places, but if Case Law and our health and safety statistics are anything to go by, we are seriously still burying our heads in the sand. Either we retain a cavalier attitude to health and safety, or the health and safety effort is seriously missing the point.

Take the simple topic of chemical lists (or hazardous substances if you will). You are expected to list the chemicals you have on site together with the expected quantities. Sounds reasonable, particularly should an emergency ever occur!

It is entirely sensible then to also expect that for each chemical, you obtain a safety data sheet (SDS) – a handy piece of wisdom provided by every manufacturer detailing the identification, firefighting, environmental, health, transport, handling, storage and disposal parameters of said chemical amongst lots of other technical detail. They are simple to obtain via the internet or the supplier. The hardest management task is keeping up with the five-yearly expiry dates.

Even the most benign and “average” chemical can make scary bedtime reading if you dive into the hazard warnings. Statements like “suspected of causing cancer” or “suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child” should get the undivided attention of workers who may be working with these chemicals every day. Add really useful information like what PPE to wear and what to do in the event of a spill and it would make complete sense to ensure that every worker that comes into contact with these chemicals reads the SDS sheets.

Surprise, surprise, that is exactly what is expected of you. Not just posting the SDS sheets on the wall or in a convenient folder but sitting the worker down with each SDS sheet and explaining (by reading or instruction), exactly what the potential issues are with each chemical. Not just issues for today or soon, but decades later.

In an environment where the health and safety of our workers is supposedly paramount, it would be absolutely dumb to not have these basic steps embedded in your health and safety system. However, according to the statistics and the inspectorate, a lot of businesses are still out to lunch.

Is yours?

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.