Bob Lapidus, CSP, CSMS
My colleagues and I ask a series of questions in a safety management questionnaire we have been using and updating for many years. Some of the questions pertain directly to whether an organization has a sufficient number of employees to do its work safely:
|Question #1:||Are there enough people to do the work in a safe manner?|
This prime question requires management to think about whether all the different tasks can be safely completed. The normal gut response is usually yes. Well, don’t we have enough employees? We have had very few injuries and those injuries we have sustained were caused by employees being careless or not using their common sense. An additional employee would not have prevented the injury from being sustained.
Then we ask more specific questions that might cause the responders to re-think their first answer:
|Question #2:||Do Organization personnel always work with at least one other person when doing hazardous work (tasks that pose a risk of severe or fatal injury)?|
Most of the time, management responds with a yes. When the answer is no, the reason is because there aren’t enough employees to have two at the same job site.
|Question #3:||If an employee needs to call for emergency assistance, can the emergency response arrive on site in a timely manner?|
In most locales, the answer is yes, but there are many rural locations where there is no way that emergency response can respond in a timely manner. The suggestion to protect employees who are not near a timely emergency response is to recommend that two people be present in those situations trained in first aid and CPR . . . That takes us back to the answer to #2. That will work with most of the organizations with which we work (see the most of the time answer for Question #2), but when there aren’t enough employees to even do hazardous work with more than one employee, what happens then? What risk do we take when we have one person working alone, doing a hazardous task, with emergency response not being timely?
Let’s add a specific dilemma to this problem:
|Question #4:||If you have the requirement for entry into permit-required confined spaces, do you have a written Permit-Required Confined Space (PRCS) Safety Program?|
How many employees are needed to do a safe entry into a PRCS and a rescue, if needed? The answer is: at least three.
Do you have a sufficient number of employees to do the work? Well . . . for most things we do; we are okay. Yes, there are certain circumstances where we do not have enough employees, but those situations are rare, and we have never even had a close call . . .
Is the risk acceptable or unacceptable? Is the potential loss acceptable or unacceptable? What is the probability of a severe loss? We make decisions. Sometimes we luck out. Sometimes we don’t. In safety we should not depend upon luck. We need to manage our organizations with the purpose of protecting our employees.
As a good safety practice, review the amount and kind of work your organization does compared with your staffing. Determine if you have enough employees to do the work safely, and establish short- to long-term goals to increase staffing to meet the work needs, if needed. As in all things in safety, be proactive, not reactive.
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