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Interview with Mark Micheles,
Vice President of Sales – North America, Safety Today

“These are my opinions based on my experience providing safety solutions for the material’s handling market.”
- Mark Micheles

MHPN: What is the biggest threat to safety?

MM: In my experience, the biggest threat is behavior in the face of hazards, not just the existence of hazards. For the most part, companies do a fine job of addressing safety from the perspective of risk assessment; that is, they identify the risks well. But getting employees to change their behavior and make safety a habit is what will have the biggest impact on a company’s incident rate and safety performance. An integral, behavior-based safety culture is a must.

For example, in the glass-handling market, employees are taught how to handle glass and panes. They are also taught the proper PPE to wear and when and how to wear it. But behavioral training goes deeper. It imagines a worst-case scenario, because, frankly, accidents don’t happen with any regularity, so we behave differently when they do. So, in this market, employees must be trained how to behave if a sheet of glass starts to fall. Their first instinct is to try to catch it or stop it, which can be a fatal move when working with sheets of glass. Instead, you have to change that ingrained behavior and teach employees to move away from the hazard — the falling glass — rather than trying to intervene.

Here’s another example of a behavioral threat in a warehouse: A large automotive manufacturer has forklifts traversing the whole floor. There is a process in place that requires employees walking through the warehouse to stop at each intersection before they cross an aisle, look both ways, and then physically point in the direction they are going to continue walking. That’s a behavioral adaptation to a potentially hazardous environment. So, if employees are observed just walking through a warehouse while talking to another person or with eyes glued to their cell phones, they can be reminded of the hazard and retrained in the safe behavior protocol.

In both of these situations, the foundation for safety is there. The risk has been identified, and the company has put a safety protocol into place. It’s the behavior of individuals that’s really the threat, and teaching or reinforcing safe behavior is the solution. Here is where the rubber hits the road: Unless employees change their behavior, a safety culture won’t take root.

MHPN: Is there an emerging problem?

MM: The problem, if you could call it that, is the reality that employees spend more waking hours on the job than they do at home. All this time invested creates an undeniable relationship — employees are like family. There is a growing trend to stop looking at just “workplace safety” and to start seeing safety as part of a lifestyle. So now, many companies encourage that PPE be used outside the workplace — at home. They promote driving safety and emphasize the need slow down, not just on the way home from work but also on the drive in. At Safety Today, we even are talking about proper home safety practices. When we do training, we encourage a broader vision and talk about how we all need to bring the safety culture home.

Two other lifestyle issues, sleep deprivation and improper cell phone use, demonstrate how home life can affect work life in unsafe ways. Both of these pervasive cultural trends can affect concentration, and being distracted can cost a life — and that’s the case both at home and at work.

MHPN: Who is responsible for training to avoid accidents?

MM: It’s the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate safety training. There are OSHA required training protocols; every company has to provide training for their employee base every year or when changes occur. For example, forklift operators have to go through an initial forklift-training program and to ensure continuous education repeat annual training as changes occur, followed by a driver’s test every 3 years. The problem is, as with any type of education — whether it’s at Harvard or XYZ Community College — the varying degrees of knowledge that students acquire will be determined in part by who is conducting the training. Often, to maintain compliance in training programs, companies will have a supervisor conduct the training class, but that supervisor may not have the proper teaching ability to conduct an efficient, well-received class. It’s not only the responsibility of the employer to provide safety training, but also to do it in an engaging manner that will keep the employees interested. Keep in mind that if your employees are bored in these classes, you may never achieve that change in behavior.

Third-party companies like Safety Today, which doubles as a safety product specialist and a safety consultancy, can conduct training classes and create incentives that encourage participation. If the employees are going to get anything out of their training, they have to be mindfully present. If a company needs training in an area for which we don’t have our own expert, we can bring in experts at discounted rates through consulting firms with whom we partner. Electrical safety training would fall into that category.

MHPN: Is meeting regulations just a baseline, and do most companies go beyond that?

MM: I think most companies try to go well beyond the baseline today versus years past. The baseline is just that; it only scratches the surface. I’ve engaged with several customers who have created or asked us to create home safety programs. These are companies who are very proud of their safety records, and people want to work for them because of it.

We constantly ask ourselves, how do we break through that baseline to go well beyond the regulatory issues? How can we help our employees and our customers’ employees? We truly take safety as our mission, not just our business. To that end, we’ve dedicated parts of custom catalogs to at-home safety.

MHPN: How do you tailor solutions to individual companies?

MM: When meeting with an individual company, our industry-recognized safety experts will go on site and perform a facility survey and a hazard analysis. These surveys encompass obtaining safety records from the last three years, a thorough facility audit, and a hazard assessment for each work area in the facility. Then we recommend — or even custom tailor — solutions to help our customers reduce risk to people and property and to help them establish their own culture of safety.