A regular assessment of an organization’s safety program and specific safety initiatives demonstrates accountability and a commitment to excellence.
By  Will Flower

Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York City, would famously pose an iconic question to New Yorkers when he would ask, “How am I doing?” The question, while simple, encapsulated a fundamental principle that underpinned Koch’s continuous pursuit of self-assessment and improvement.
Asking “How are we doing?” in regard to safety programs is an important step in identifying gaps, implementing corrective actions, and promoting a culture of safety throughout an organization. Waste collection, processing, and recycling companies can benefit from thorough evaluations of safety programs that identify areas of strengths and weaknesses in an effort toward continuous enhancement.

Workers in the solid waste and recycling industry confront a unique set of hazards daily. From driving in heavy traffic, to operating heavy equipment, to processing and disposing of waste—the risks are significant.

The following is a step-by-step process for evaluating a safety program in an effort to improve it and to safeguard workers.

Step 1: Set Goals for Safety
A safety audit is a systematic process to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of a safety program. The goals for the review include:

  • Identify weaknesses and non-compliance within the current safety protocols.
  • Assess the effectiveness of safety training and awareness programs.
  • Ensure that safety equipment is available, functioning, and being used correctly.
  • Review past incidents to identify root causes of accidents and prevent future occurrences.
  • Enhance the overall safety culture by involving workers in safety evaluations and decision-making.

Step 2: Be Inclusive
Gather appropriate managers, safety professionals, and workers to determine the areas, processes, and activities to be reviewed. For waste collection and transportation and solid waste management, this might include reviewing standard operating procedures, maintenance, work rules, waste collection protocols, and personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.

Step 3: Gather Documentation
Collect safety manuals, training records, incident reports, and previous audit reports. These documents provide a baseline for evaluating current safety practices.

Step 4: Conduct Workplace Observations
Conduct site visits and route observations to watch workers in action. Look for safety violations, proper use of equipment, and adherence to safety protocols. Field observations are a good opportunity to engage with workers to understand their perception of the safety program, identify unreported issues, and gather suggestions for improvement. Finally, site visits are a perfect opportunity to check the condition and maintenance records of vehicles, machinery, and safety equipment while checking to see if facilities comply with safety standards.

Step 5: Reporting Findings
A written report will help record areas of concern and areas for improvement. Use photographs and detailed notes to support the audit findings. For each issue identified, propose corrective actions and a deadline for corrective action. Recommendations should be practical, achievable, and aimed at mitigating risks.

Step 6: Follow Up
Share the evaluation of a safety program with management and employees. Transparency is key to fostering a culture of safety. Everyone should know the organization’s priorities. Regularly checking the status of improvements and making adjustments as necessary demonstrates an ongoing commitment to safety.

Step 7: Fortify the Culture of Safety
Ultimately, the goal of evaluating a safety program is not just compliance, but creating an environment where safety is ingrained in every aspect of work. Encouraging open communication, involving workers in safety decisions, and recognizing safe behaviors are essential strategies for building a positive safety culture.

Navigating Dynamic Operational Requirements
Regular safety audits are indispensable for identifying risks and enhancing protective measures for workers. By systematically evaluating and improving safety procedures and programs, employers can not only comply with workplace safety requirements, but also demonstrate their commitment to their workforce’s well-being.

This reflective practice is critical in navigating the complexities of today’s dynamic operational environments, ensuring that organizations remain resilient, efficient, and responsive to change. By regularly asking, “How are we doing?” and rigorously applying a review process to answer this question, organizations can ensure that they are not just maintaining standards, but are also on a perpetual path of progress to a safer workplace. | WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems on Long Island, NY.

Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at [email protected].