Guest Article written by David Jaenike of Safety Knights
New to the Health and Safety field, or looking to get into the field? One of the hardest parts about Health and Safety (or any field) is building up your resource and reference archive to have a place to turn to when you’re unsure of something. Seasoned Safety vets know that one of the worst things you can do as a Health and Safety professional is provide your workforce with inaccurate or false information. Even giving one employee or contractor false information can have rippling effects which spread from one person or supervisor to the entire organization. Now your entire workforce is following non-compliant practices.
How Do We Avoid That?
Burn this phrase into your brain “I’m not sure, but let me look into that”. It sounds simple, but believe it or not this can be a tough one for people to swallow. The fear of being portrayed as incompetent can and will cause people to make things up on the spot. Don’t be that person.
Depending on the question you’ve been asked, knowing where to find the unknown can either be easy, or downright impossible. So let’s map it out.
Yes you’re allowed. This is the easiest, cheapest and fastest way to figure out your answer. Most of the time google is pretty good about directing you to an OSHA standard that meets or is pretty close to your description.
Watch out: Although convenient, you’ll want to make sure the standard or regulation you’re looking at is indeed within your industry. Google will direct you to the most relevant result, which is great if you’re in general industry and the top result is general industry - but if you’re looking in maritime then you’ll want to be aware of that.
If you’re fortunate enough to be working under an experienced health and safety pro, or have a consultant working alongside your company, then those are two great resources you can explore. These resources can always offer insight, but knowledge may be limited depending on the problem. It may also be necessary to include an HR manager, or another supervisor in the discussion depending on the scope of the problem.
Manufacturers are another great resource to keep in the back of your mind. If your question involves a product, the manufacturer is often the best place to start. Sales reps and account managers are typically well connected and if they can’t provide the service to solve your problem, chances are they can recommend a company that will.
If you follow the recommendations outlined above, 95% of the time you’ll be able to answer those tricky problems. In the off chance you come up empty, it’s important to have a network you can tap into. Here are some places you can go to build your network.
American Society of Safety Professionals: ASSP has over 150 chapters and 39,000 members. Joining an ASSP chapter will give you a great local network of safety professionals, and most chapters offer periodic in-person meetings which is a great opportunity to be able to discuss some common issues safety pros face in the field. There are annual dues and there may be fees for membership in local chapters and optional practice specialty or common interest group member communities.
Online Communities: Online communities are another fantastic resource to help grow your network. Safety Knights is free to join, and contains plenty of resources to help grow your career such as a job board, EHS file sharing, discussion threads, and a few other odds and ends.
If you’re reading this as a new or aspiring safety pro, don’t try to be the expert. Putting that expectation on yourself will pressure you into answering questions you may not have the experience or background to answer. Use the road map provided here to help answer your question. Your colleagues and managers will respect you far more for admitting you don’t know something, just make sure you know where to go to get your answers.
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