We are all safety officers

By Jake Joy DLA Disposition Services

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“What are you doing? When you see something unsafe, are you saying ‘stop, you can’t do that?’”

That was the central question posed by Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Ernesto Chee-Chong during a Material Handling Equipment Safety Summit that wrapped up Oct. 25 in Michigan. That same question came up repeatedly as trainers, safety personnel and DLA Disposition Services leadership visited with the command’s global cadre of MHE Instructor/Certifying Officials during the four-day event.

Topics covered the gamut of what constitutes safe operation in a warehouse environment. The officials analyzed mishap situation reports, debated risk management concepts, studied manufacturer recommendations for preventative maintenance checks, took written knowledge tests and broke into teams for incident response simulation capstone projects.

During a joint information session with the command’s region directors and area managers, Chee-Chong provided a 2019 mishap overview that incorporated injury and property damage data from various reporting systems, allowing managers to compare mishap rates down to the individual site level and see positive and negative safety trends across fiscal years. In the discussion period that followed, leaders said it was surprising to see what a standardized mishap frequency metric looked like and they felt it was a good reminder that small sites with less personnel and less property require just as much attention and safety training as larger, busier sites that handle more customer traffic.

Officials hoped to strengthen the safety program by directing ICOs and leaders to ensure MHE equipment and operator files stay updated and site operators know their pre-use preventative maintenance checks, understand proper documentation, and are familiar with correct lock out/tag out procedures and work order.

“Every single one of them were preventable,” said DLA Disposition Services Director Mike Cannon, citing the previous fiscal year’s mishaps. “I need you to take an active role in prevention. … We – leaders and ICOs – need to look in the mirror and say ‘I’m a safety officer, I have full authority to ensure good safety within the sphere of my control.'”

Cannon said every member of the workforce should feel similarly. He shared some facts about MHE mishap fatality rates in the U.S. and warned leaders that MHE can and will end people’s lives if safety isn’t the highest priority in the workplace.

“If you see something that’s not right and you don’t immediately address it, you just condoned it and it becomes normalized,” Cannon said. “We’ve got to teach our workforce that when they see someone not wearing a seatbelt … they need to know they will be praised for calling each other out and self-policing.”    

Chee-Chong briefed leaders on future initiatives and safety concentration points, including the steady improvement of facility lighting, awareness of pedestrian encroachment, operator visibility limitations and the dangers of speed. He talked about the safety challenges of having customer and government vehicles come and go from field sites and the risks involved with having non-DLA drivers in the operating space. Recent mitigation efforts have included ergonomist, visibility and vibration assessments, focus groups, new warehouse and equipment safety signage, and program element reviews. He said there was a process improvement project in the works and plans to visit with top private industry warehouses to evaluate safety best practices and technologies.   

Nate Creech manages the command’s MHE licensing and training program and coordinated summit sessions and topics. He briefed ICOs on the “SAFE” campaign, which includes posters and stickers meant to help operators develop and retain a mental safety checklist they can rely on to ensure proper procedure every time they fire up a piece of equipment. The stickers should soon appear on MHE throughout the command’s global network.

“What we want is for people to stop and think for a minute,” Creech said, explaining that the goal is for the on-machine stickers to create good habits. “You start seeing the thing over and over and start remembering what it says and taking that extra second to think and be safe.”