Make Safety a Habit: Building a Culture of Safety in Your Woodworking Shop

As a health and safety consultant and coach for over 30 years, I know a thing or two about the importance of health and safety in a woodworking shop. I think it would be reasonable to focus on the two key aspects:

Why manage health and safety?
Every organization regardless of the industry needs to manage its health and safety aspects. Morally, over my 30 years in the fi eld of health and safety I have never worked with or for a management team that did not care about the health and safety of their employees. The difference has been in how much they were committed to make that happen. You have probably heard of the term “walk the talk,” which represents going beyond just lip service by demonstrating commitment by taking action.

In addition to the moral aspect, there is also a significant business advantage to the prevention of all loss related to health and safety. This is equivalent to the importance of managing other business aspects such as finances, quality, productivity, shipping, and customer service. Health and safety management is just as critical to the success of any business. The successful organizations I have worked with over the years have managed all of these aspects equally well.

In today’s competitive and economically challenging environment, no organization can afford losses to equipment, materials, customers and most importantly employees. Work-related injuries and/or illnesses will impact productivity and customer service, and result in increased production and insurance costs including higher workers compensation insurance premiums.

Lastly, if the moral and business advantage reasons are not enough to justify the importance of managing health and safety, then we can add the legal requirements. All provinces in Canada(and all U.S. states) have health and safety legislation on the books. Failure to comply could result in compliance orders, tickets, fines and even jail time. Serious injuries could also result in charges under the criminal code of Canada. The law not only establishes some general requirements but also sets the expectation that all hazards and risks be controlled at the lowest practicable level. Many of the controls for high-risk hazards, such as machine guarding, working at heights, mobile equipment and material storage, are actually legislated. It is important to note that not all hazards can be or are legislated, yet an employer has a legal duty to identify and control all of them. There are also legal codes related to health and safety such as building, fi re and electrical to keep in mind.

How to manage health and safety
So, if I have been able to convince you that you should be managing the health and safety aspects of your business, then the next question is how to do it. The answer does no need to be overly complex or much different to managing most key aspects of running a business.

First, if we can assume that the management team is truly committed to the health and safety of its employees, then a resource needs to be assigned. This is no different than what is done with the other key aspects of a business that need to be managed. The level of resources will depend on the size of the organization and the level of health and safety risks. Small- to medium-size organizations must dedicate at least some part-time resource to health and safety. Health and safety will not manage itself, and even though everyone in an organization has a role to play, the health and safety program must still be overseen and coordinated by a qualified individual.

The management of health and safety is also a legal duty typically assigned to the employer in all jurisdictions. In order to carry out this role, the individual assigned must have some level of competency when it comes to health and safety. They should be provided with some basic health and safety training and support. Providing this training and support has been a key role of mine inworking with organizations that do not require a full-time health and safety professional. My role has been to guide organizations in the development of a formal health and safety program or management system. The level of complexity will again depend on the organization’s size and risks, with the minimum requirements being the legislated requirements and control of hazards.

The process requires development of standards and procedures, implementation, monitoring, and maintaining, which includes continual improvement. This approach will support the legal concept of due diligence, which is the ability to be able to demonstrate that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent worker injury or illness and comply with legal requirements.

I also recommend that my clients follow the chain of due diligence.

Step 1 —
Inventory all the health and safety legislation that applies to your organization. Inventory all of your specific hazards.
Step 2 —
Develop and implement the required standards, procedures, forms, safe operating procedures (SOP’s), processes, and activities required to address your legal requirements and control your hazards to the lowest practicable level.
Step 3 —
Based on step 2, carry out any training requirements set out in step 1. This will include conducting a training and communication needs analysis; then carry out and document the training. You must also verify and document that the training was understood by the employees who took it.
Step 4 —
Monitor and enforce compliance to all require standards and procedures holding everyone accountable for their roles.
Step 5 —
Everything in steps 1 to 5 must be well documented so you are able to demonstrate that they were carried out.

By following the above process, the goal is to develop a culture of health and safety that becomes an integral component of your business’ success. Of course. you also keep your employees healthy and safe.