Communication at work: 3 tips for developing a hazard communication program

Communication at work: 3 tips for developing a hazard communication plan

Every worker is exposed to one or more hazards in the workplace no matter how safe your workplace appears to be. For example, Cleaners are exposed to chemicals, office workers are exposed to slips, trips and falls and Musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), electricians are obviously exposed to electric shocks and fires, caterers to burns and fires, call centre workers and teachers to stress, traders to stress and long working hours, dressmakers to pin pricks and back pain, to mention a few. If these hazards are left unattended, they are very likely to cause serious problems for workers and their employers. A hazard often presents many risks so ignoring the hazard will cost you more than it would have cost you to put protective measures in place or get rid of the hazard. Knowing the hazards you are exposed to and the necessary protective measures can help you protect yourself from adverse effects.

How then can one know the hazards they face at work? You can only achieve this through communication and many fail at this – that is because communication isn’t as easy as many make it appear. Many employers believe their plans, policies and procedures are for the filing cabinet – either to prove to themselves that they are safety compliant, are good at keeping records or to safeguard them when inspectors come around. Your plans, policies and risk assessments must not be kept secret. If you don’t have a communication plan here is a good way to start.

This post will provide you with 3 tips for developing a functional and appropriate hazard communication plan.

(1) Gather information. Employers need to gather information so they are better equipped to inform and train their employees, design and put in place protective measures. Fo example, chemical manufacturers are required to prepare labels and material safety data sheet (MSDS) so that hazard information is readily available to consumers. Employers must then obtain a MSDS from manufacturers as soon as possible. (Watch out for my post on understanding a MSDS – coming soon).

This MSDS is useful to employers as from this document, employers can get enough information to prepare risk assessments and decide on safe systems of work and relevant protective equipment. Where the MSDS is missing, employers must not ignore but should do everything within their power to obtain it. These days you can find them on manufacturers’ websites. Employers need to conduct research around their business processes, what the law says about them and the minimum you need to do to ensure your workplace is safe; you can employ a consultant to do this for you if you feel stuck.

(2) Have a written plan. When writing a plan, employers must assign responsibilities – that is decide who is responsible for various aspects of the communication plan in the workplace. The plan should also describe the standards which must be maintained in the workplace e.g. you should have a written list of chemicals, who is responsible for them and where the written materials are stored for easy access. The written plan should also describe the requirements for labels and other forms of warning, MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), and how employee information and training will be met.

You can also use a workplace labeling system as long as it does not contradict Globally Harmonized System pictograms or signal words. Workplace labels include written materials that can help easily identify hazardous materials such as signs, placards, process sheets, batch tickets and safe systems of work.

The plan can be in any form – hardcopy or electronic. With advancement in technology, it is now easy for employers to share documents with their employees. Explore all available options.

(3) Share the plan. Remember your employees have the right to know about the hazards present in their work environment. All content of your plan must be made easily accessible to all parties involved and upon request by regulatory bodies. Employees must know when, how and where to use tags and notices. They must be able to recognise and understand them. Train employees on safe working practices around the hazards presnt in the workplace. They need to be shown how to carry out tasks effectively and safety such as handling chemicals correctly, how to Lockout TagOut, changing electrical switch etc.

Remember also that employees must be trained before exposing them to hazards. Through training, employees must learn how to write secondary container labels that are not confusing, and how to use protective practices such as using personal protective equipment (PPE) and engineering/administrative controls.

Get your employers to be hands-on during training. Don’t just present a lecture, there must be lots of demonstrations and practical sessions until your employees can carry out their tasks safely with minimal supervision.

The advantage of having a communication plan. There are many advantages of having a communication plan in your workplace. The most important is that it helps in preventing adverse effects from exposure to hazards and subsequently reduction of illnesses and injuries. There will be less sickness absences, less compensation, reduced staff turnover and reduced losses as your business stays functional and profitable.

Are there any other key points you keep in mind when writing a communication plan? Please share them.