MILK & INHALED TOXINS

In my years as an OSH practitioner I have come across a lot of urban myths. Top on that list is the belief that drinking milk neutralizes the effects of inhaled contaminants like dusts, vapours, fumes and mists. Due to the easy buy in by workers, the practice has become so widespread that other prevention measures like engineering controls and Personal protective equipment’s are completely ignored.

The origins of this common practice are many but none has been backed up by scientific research as exposure to lead. The argument has always been that milk being high in calcium reduces lead absorption in the body. This practice was the basis of a research paper titled “The influence of milk intake on the lead toxicity to the sensory nervous system in lead workers”. This research paper noted in part that workers who did not take milk, due to health reasons, had higher blood lead parameters. However, it was observed that the difference was not statistically significant. Despite the focus of research being exclusively on lead exposure, the practice of giving milk to workers has been replicated for all imaginable substances in the workplace.

Furthermore, according to research done by The National Research Council (US), the toxic effects of inhaled chemicals may differ markedly from that which occurs when the agents are ingested. The reasoning is that the target organ of exposure, the lungs, function differently from the stomach in which the intervention (milk) is administered.

Also, the rate of absorption of contaminants through the lungs is significantly higher than through the digestive system. This is due, in part, to the large surface area of the lungs. The digestion process is further slowed down by the presence of other food in the Gastro-Intestinal tract. That is to simply say that the inhaled contaminants will be in the blood stream and in the susceptible organ long before the ingested remedy can “neutralize” them.

When the body is exposed to inhalable toxins, extra mucus is produced as a defence mechanism. This extra mucus drips to the throat through the back of the nose. Granted, there is a short lived relieve felt at the throat after washing down the mucus. However, the soothing effect at the throat attributed to milk can basically be replicated by taking any warm beverage. The milk in this case is a very temporary fix and unless the root cause of the extra mucus is addressed, a chronic respiratory infection is inevitable.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA 2007), it is the responsibility of the employer to undertake an appropriate risk assessments in relation to the safety and health of persons employed. On the basis of these results, the employer must adopt the preventive and protective measures suggested. All professional OSH practitioners go by the hierarchy of controls from elimination of the hazard through to provision of personal protective equipment to suggest the most appropriate method to prevent chemical exposure.

In the absence of a risk assessment report, employers can refer to the safety data sheets (SDS) accompanying the chemicals in use. The SDS will include information on the physical, health & environmental hazards and the appropriate protective measures against these listed hazards.

The workers too should be sensitized on the facts surrounding this myth to curb ignorance. It is therefore the duty of the employer to inform the workers that milk is at best a free meal that is ineffective in preventing the effects of occupational exposure to inhalants. The workers under OSHA 2007 have the responsibility of complying with the measures put in place by the employer to ensure their health & safety in the workplace.

Also to my fellow OSH practitioners, we have a duty of diligently busting this myth with every opportunity. Armed with the few facts laid out in this article, we can be reasonably confident to sway workers and employers to embrace the more tried and tested control methods.

It is often said that Knowledge is power, however author Tony Robbins points out that knowledge is only potential power. True power lies in taking action based on your knowledge. Have a lactose tolerant day!

Daniel Amol, HSE Consultant

FROM SAFETY MANAGER TO CEO…

Career progression is key to attracting and retaining top talent in any organization. In the Kenyan Civil Service, the government has gone to the extent of establishing guidelines to ensure equitable promotions based on performance, experience and academic qualifications. In the private sector these listed variables are also considered when opportunities for promotions arise. However, if this is the case, why aren’t there any top performing Safety Managers rising to the role of CEO?

Let us start by looking at some requirements in recent advertisements for a Safety Manager and a CEO respectively.

Safety Manager’s Job Responsibilities;

  • Stewardship of Health and Safety Management System towards ensuring flawless business operations.
  • Implementation of the annual high-level Health and Safety Plan ensuring 100% delivery in role-related functions.
  • Assist stakeholders in the planning and execution of events to assure the highest standards of safety.
  • Provide counsel concerning compliance requirements to employees, contractors, visitors and other persons directly involved in function-related operations.
  • Maintain a strong field presence ensuring that all function-related business operations comply with OSH laws and regulations.
  • Coordinate related functions, Senior Management tours, engagement activities and reporting
  • Coordinate the contractor safety management process within the role-related activities.

The CEO is the highest-ranking executive in a company. Some of the key duties include:

  • Act as the figurative head of the organization when communicating with shareholders, government entities and the general public.
  • Lead the development of the organization’s long- and short-term strategies.
  • Manage overall operations and make major decisions affecting the organization.
  • Manage the organization’s resources.
  • Negotiate or approve agreements and contracts for the organization.

Looking at some of the roles, I believe the skills acquired by a Safety Manager will enable him/her to perform the listed duties of a CEO, on paper at least.

Why then are there no Safety Managers in Kenya rising to the rank of CEO? Could it be linked to our lack of fashion sense, perhaps…

Indulge me as I unpack a few reasons of what I believe could be contributing to the stagnation of Safety Managers.

First, a Safety Manager reports on safety incidences which resulted in either a Death, Injury or Loss of Property. Therefore, their moments in the limelight are usually to convey bad news. It is only human nature to associate the news bearer with the news relayed, the phrase “shooting the messenger” captures this best.

 

 

Another factor would be the prevailing organizational safety culture. A large majority of companies are more of compliant rather than committed to safety. This makes the safety manager find him/herself playing the role of an enforcer. As a result their appeal as the preferred candidate to be CEO is affected as enforcers are seen as followers and not leaders.

Also, the decisions Safety Managers make are usually based on life or death with little to no room for popular opinion. This presents one in an unfavourable light which might not represent the type of image the organisation wishes to portray.

In some organisations, the Safety Manager’s success can be their undoing. One’s role might come into question as there are no accidents that occur on site. I know of Safety Managers who have been asked if there is a need for their role as there are no accidents in the workplace for extended periods. An example of lack of evidence being taken as evidence of absence. This places a safety manager’s role to be seen as one that does not add much value.

Lastly, most safety programs are highlighted under expenses in which there is no direct income generated from these activities. It is for this reason that in some companies, cost cutting measures always touch on safety as the priority is primarily on the core business. This confirms Marslow’s law that our most basic need is for survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Therefore whoever is seen to drive the financial survival agenda is the one most likely to be CEO.

In my opinion, the safety culture of organisations and the public as a whole needs to move from compliance to commitment before safety practitioners can get the prominence they deserve. Only then will we witness a Safety Manager rising to the rank of CEO.

I’d like to conclude with the following questions to you my valued reader;

  1. If you are a Safety Manager, do you harbour any ambitions to be CEO? What hurdles are preventing you from climbing the corporate ladder?
  2. As a CEO, would you consider nominating the Safety Manager as your successor?
  3.  As a shareholder of a publicly traded company, would you support the appointment of a Safety Manager as CEO?

Please place your answers and views on the comment section below.

References

Safaricom. (2021, May 24). Safety Manager (Commercial & Regional Operations) at Safaricom Kenya.

Retrieved from JobWeb Kenya: https://jobwebkenya.com/jobs/safety-manager-commercial-regional-operations-safaricom-kenya/?utm_campaign=google_jobs_apply&utm_source=google_jobs_apply&utm_medium=organic

SOP DEVIATION

SOP DEVIATION

 

Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a set of instructions on how to perform a risky task with minimum risk of injury or damage to equipment. These instructions can also be called Safe Work Procedures.

The process of developing SOPs starts with the identifying the tasks that pose the greatest risks to workers and working down towards those with a lower risk. It is of paramount importance to involve the workers performing the tasks during the development of SOPs as their hands on experience provides invaluable input. The key steps that follow are;

1. Identifying each step involved to complete the task.

2. Identifying Hazards associated in each step

3. Establishing Hazard control methods for each identified hazard in step 2 above.

4. Document the Safe work Procedure

5. Communicate the SOPs to workers through constant training

6. Ensure compliance with SOPs while undertaking tasks through Supervision

7. Review SOPs periodically to ensure they are up to date and effective.

Now that we know what SOPs are, we can get back to the real world implications. As an OSH practitioner, the biggest headache comes in only one step, and that is step 6 above. We as human beings get creative (read bored) and come up with ingenious ways of shortening the SOPs thereby reducing their effectiveness. This can be as a result of competing demands on resources of time and money. These short cuts are what we refer to as unsafe acts and according to Heindrich’s accident triangle, these acts contribute to 90% of all workplace accidents. OSH Practitioners being human also approach SOPs in different ways. Some require 100% compliance while others allow exceptions. We can clearly see the Pros and cons of each approach. 100% compliance will ideally lead to zero accidents but at the expense of completion of a project within budget and on time. Exceptions could lead to work being completed within time and budget but could lead to loss of life. How then can one have the best of both worlds? An SOP Deviation.

What is an SOP deviation? I can describe it as an SOP that defines the steps to take in order to alter a particular tasks predefined SOP. Confusing? Let me clarify further using a case study.

We have an excavator to be loaded onto a truck. The standard SOP requires a ramp to be used but today the ramp is not available for a very genuine reason. The operators inform you of a method they have used before but it’ll deviate from the Loading SOP. As a safety officer, do you hear them out or do you remain steadfast and insist on 100% compliance with the SOP? Whatever your take, stay with me as I expound on SOP Deviation.

SOP Deviation comes as a result of unavoidable real world scenarios. In such cases there are Subject Matter experts who can come up with creative solutions to the problem at hand. These creative solutions often present new risks and the SOP deviation is key in addressing the new risks introduced by the new method employed.

SOP Deviation is therefore the Standard Operating Procedure for identifying, approving and tracking Deviation (s) which may occur during an activity. Therefore, the way in which a deviation is recorded should be standardized. The SOP Deviation should give the following information;

• SOP being deviated from

• Reason for Deviation

• Anticipated impact as a result of the Deviation

• Alterations (if any) that need to be implemented

• Authorized approvers of deviations

Using the case study above, I am certain a good SOP Deviation can be established in consultations with the operators to ensure the task is executed with minimal risk.

However, an SOP Deviation should not be a tool used to simply skip through a standard process. Each Deviation needs to show that the final outcome justifies its use. The safety personnel should endeavour to monitor the number of Deviations that occur. This is important as it provides insight into the general compliance with SOPs in the workplace.

If a number of deviations occur in the same SOP, it is an indication that there is need to review and optimize that SOP. Also, many deviations can indicate a general lack of enforcement / compliance with the existing SOPs or even training issues. Lastly, an excessive number of deviations in an SOP may indicate that the deviation process is too easy and encourages exceptions. This can be addressed by making the deviation process more tedious than following the standard process.

In conclusion, safety practitioners should not act as killers of innovation. Workers who do the actual job should be given opportunities to exercise their ideas while maintaining acceptable risk levels.

Are you willing to incorporate SOP Deviations into your safety management program? Comment below.

HAVE AN ACCOMODATIVE MONTH!!

Works Cited

How to use an SOP Deviation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Doc Tract: https://doctract.com/blog/policies-and-procedures/how-to-use-an-sop-deviations/

Rebecca Johansen, P. J. (2020, May 15). Autonomy Raises Productivity: An Experiment Measuring Neurophysiology. Retrieved from Frontiers in Psychology: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00963/full