In the News
Due Diligence is something that people recognize as being important - especially when a company is defending itself in court. However it actually has a much more significant meaning with respect to workplace safety. Organizations that are truly "diligent" are doing "the right thing"; that is, everything important to ensure workplace safety. This makes the organization good for workers who want to go home every night - healthy and safe. It also can make good business sense.
What does Due Diligence mean in the court sense? It is an argument a company makes to defend itself in a court of law. An organization can argue that it has taken all steps necessary and reasonable under a set of circumstances to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace.
How does an employer establish a Due Diligence Program? A number of critical steps must be taken. All of these criteria must be achieved:
- Employers have evaluated the risks, hazards, skills and training required and developed written policies, practices and procedures (PPP) to protect employees during the course of their work.
- Managers, supervisors and employees are properly trained in order to carry out their work according to the PPP as well as in their requirements for complying with health and safety legislation.
- Activities to monitor and control and ensure compliance with the PPP are documented and used.
- Enforcement measures to comply with the PPP are documented and disciplinary procedures are used actively to handle safety infractions.
- An accident investigation and reporting system which ensures that all incidents and even "near misses" are documented and reported to the employer will ensure that the PPP are reviewed, revised and improved over time. A series of accidents with no change to the PPP will demonstrate the employer is ineffective with resolving safety issues.
- All the actions above must be clearly documented, and a history of improvements in the program over time will ensure that an employer is and will be seen as being diligent.
It's important to understand that you cannot wait until after an injury or accident to create a Due Diligence program as a defense. Your program must be present, implemented and enforced to be real - preventative not reactive action.
Many Canadian jurisdictions are moving towards higher fines for safety infractions As well, the public inquiry into the Westray Mine disaster led to amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code, extending the criminal liability and sentencing of organizations and/or their directors and officers, to violations of health and safety standards.
Developing a Due Diligence program can be an effective method of preventing workplace injuries or accidents in the workplace as well as improving your workplace environment and bottom line. Do it - it makes good business sense!
In 2004 there were explosions and fires involving oil storage tanks at various sites, in different parts of Canada. No serious injuries were reported, however had the explosions occurred during maintenance or loading of crude, the outcomes could have been very different. Work Safe Alberta issued an alert.
Oil storage tanks contain a heating tube. If the level of interior fuel oil falls below the heating tube, vapours start to form inside the tank. As the glowing heater in the tank continues to function, it may eventually ignite the vapours above the liquid in the tank and cause a fire or explosion.
There are other factors that contribute to oil tank explosions. Fire tubes are not always mounted on the tanks in the same location or in an area where the trucker unloading the tank can determine if the burner is functioning. Some tanks have two fire tubes, and truckers are not always aware of this. Most tanks do not have a danger zone marking to notify truckers of the level of fluids to be maintained in the tank. And most tanks do not have a low fluid level shut-off of the heater tube - this can be costly to install.
Often, fluids are loaded in the dark, since the truckers work on a 24-hour rotation. Sites are not always well lit. And in many cases, the marker gauge on tanks is poorly marked, and the seam in the center of the gauge board often catches the marker and prevents it from giving accurate tank levels. In order to check this, a trucker must climb the ladder and lift and drop the gauge cable several times to ensure the marker is free. Not all truckers may be inclined to do this.
Despite some of these difficulties, oil tank explosions can be prevented.
Preventing oil tank explosions
According to Work Safe Alberta, investigation and review of a number of tank explosions have determined that the following practices can help prevent future incidents:
- Oil storage tanks should have well marked danger levels and gauge boards. Construction and maintenance of the gauging system should be as fail-safe as possible, to give accurate storage tank fluid level readings.
- The gauge boards should be located where they are easily visible to the trucker who is loading fluids.
- Loading areas should be well lit to allow truckers to see gauge board markers.
- Fire tube heaters should have automatic low fluid level shut-off controls.
- Truckers should have clear instructions on manually shutting down a fire tube heater if they come upon a site where the storage tank fluid levels are below the fire tube.
- Storage tanks should be regularly cleared of produced sand as the sand can lead to false readings of fluid levels.
Read the alert from Work Safe Alberta
Needlestick injuries, despite a wealth of published information about their hazards and prevention and despite safety programs addressing the risks, remain an ongoing problem in the health care industry. Some hospitals report that one-third of their nursing and laboratory staff suffer such injuries each year.
Accidental punctures by contaminated needles can inject hazardous fluids into the body through the skin. While there is potential for injection of hazardous drugs, injection of infectious fluids, especially blood, is by far the greatest concern. Even small amounts of infectious fluid can spread certain diseases effectively. Accidental injection of blood-borne viruses is the major hazard of needlestick injuries, especially the viruses that cause AIDS (the HIV virus), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. In some cases, needlestick injuries have also transmitted viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms in hospitals, laboratories or veterinary facilities.
Needlestick injuries happen when healthcare staff are using them, disassembling them, or disposing of them. When not disposed of properly, needles can become concealed in linen or garbage and injure other workers, especially maintenance workers who encounter them unexpectedly. Staff must be especially careful when they are withdrawing a needle from a patient (particularly a patient who is bleeding) and while disposing of that needle. They must also be careful when pulling a needle out of its rubber stopper of a vacuum tube, which can jab the hand in a rebound reflex. There is also a risk of a patient not holding still and accidentally jarring the needle.
Reducing the risk
Needlestick injuries are preventable. Employees must be aware of the risks and trained in the proper use, assembly, disassembly and disposal of needles. Employers should provide written safety guidelines for the prevention of needlestick injuries. In situations where it's necessary to recap a needle, an unprotected hand must never be exposed to a needle tip. And to minimize the risk at the disposal stage, facilities should use only puncture-resistant containers for needles, and plenty of them so that they don't become overloaded.
Better equipment design would greatly reduce the number of needlestick injuries and the occupational disease risk they present. For years, the health care industry has called for safer devices using protected needles, or needle-free systems with self-sealing ports, or syringes with safety features. Workers need to understand the risks associated with needlestick injuries and know the proper means to prevent them as well as protect themselves from harm.
Read OSH Answers
North American Occupational Safety and Health (NAOSH) week runs May 1-7, 2005.
The theme for NAOSH 2005 is Equip, Educate, Empower. To coincide with this theme, the Ontario NAOSH Network, a group representing many of the province's prevention partners, has developed a brief, 10-item checklist to help workplaces test their organization's health and safety "fitness." The checklist is intended to get workplaces thinking about basic requirements and workplace injury and illness issues. It also provides information on resources that are available so that employers can make improvements where necessary.
Good employers know that protecting the health and safety of their workers is not only law, it is the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense. By implementing active health and safety programs and enforced policies, and by making safety a top priority, organizations not only demonstrate their commitment to their employees, they act responsibility. These actions help foster a health and safety culture that can lead to fewer injuries and illnesses for the employees, and a healthier organization all round.
NAOSH week is also an ideal time for organizations to enhance their knowledge of workplace safety by holding or participating in a health and safety event. These events can range from training sessions to contests to community events - anything designed to raise awareness. The NAOSH Week website is chock full of ideas and resources that can be downloaded.
Representing the interests of your fellow employees or fellow managers as a member of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is an important responsibility. The committee works together to deal with occupational health and safety issues and helps develop and implement programs to protect the workers. Among other things, it shares responsibility for investigating accidents, reviewing the company's occupational health and safety program, conducting workplace inspections, controlling work hazards, and resolving issues - such as an employee's refusal to perform unsafe work - as they arise.
Health and Safety Committees, a new e-learning course from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), teaches you the roles and responsibilities of a committee member. It explains how to establish a new committee, how a committee can perform its functions and how to be effective. The course helps you learn how to respond to workplace concerns and assist in resolving workplace issues.
Whether you're a new committee member or a seasoned professional, you can benefit from this online course and the convenience of learning at your own pace, and at your own computer. Learning is made easy, with features such as links to supporting information and documents, quizzes to test your knowledge and sample checklists and an accident report form that can be adapted for your own use. The course takes about 40 -60 minutes to complete.
Employers are responsible for setting up a JHSC and ensuring that it complies with the occupational health and safety law. The committee must represent a wide range of employees. Above all the committee must be effective, and have access to the time, money and equipment it requires to do its job. The Health and Safety Committees e-course is a flexible, easy and cost-effective way to get your committee off to a great start.
More information about the Health and Safety Committees e-course
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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