Employee Confessions: Why Workers Don’t Report Combustible Dust Safety Issues

Open Issue With Combustible Dust Safety

Unreported Combustible Dust Safety Issue

Safety is job #1. Safety is everyone’s job. Safety, safety, safety. If you’ve got posters in your workplace with one of these slogans, you’re not alone. So if those sayings really ring true, why aren’t employees reporting combustible dust incidents at the workplace?

Small fires or mini-explosions aren’t reported many times for the same reason as other safety issues. No one got hurt, it didn’t seem like a big deal, or it doesn’t seem like the issue was important enough to take the time to do paperwork. But usually, these incidents are a precursor to something larger, and can serve as a warning sign to a potentially dangerous situation. That’s why it’s important to create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting incidents, and where they understand the importance of reporting safety issues—even if it seems insignificant.

I recently spoke with Harry, one of the boilermakers at a large railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee, regarding some of the reasons he thinks that some employees don’t report safety issues. He says that there are many reasons, but he highlighted a few specific things that tend to keep employees quiet.

Complaining

They don’t want to seem like a tattle-tale, or seem to be griping (especially if they’re trying to move up the corporate ladder). Telling the boss that something isn’t safe may make an employee feel like they’re complaining, when really, it’s just a way to keep themselves and others out of harm’s way. It’s important to make sure your team knows the difference, and that they know their OSHA Safety Rights.

Education

Sometimes they aren’t aware or educated. This, Harry points out, is the company’s fault. He says that an employer telling the worker that there is an MSDS isn’t enough, when most times they don’t give the worker time to read it and understand it. Make sure your workers have the time and resources to understand any safety information associated with their jobs, including the MSDS.

Peer Pressure

Good old fashioned peer pressure: They don’t want to admit to being afraid of something in front of peers. Sure, there are egos at stake, but the consequence is too great to not report safety issues. One way companies can handle this is with regular Toolbox Talks, where everyone is encouraged to share safety stories and issues, so no one is singled out.

Legal Issues

Sometimes there has already been an accident but those involved can’t pass a drug test and don’t want to lose their jobs. It’s a shocking reality, but a reality nonetheless. If no one is around, there might be no way to know when these accidents occur. Be on the lookout for unreported damage to equipment, and be sure to investigate any findings.

Lack of Acknowledgement

If the company has a history of not listening or responding, the employees think reporting is useless. When your workers take the time to report an issue, it’s for the safety of themselves, the building, and everyone in it. It’s critical to acknowledge this—and act. If they’ve tried to fix a safety problem in the past with no response from decision makers, it’s unlikely they’ll continue to speak up in the future.

Harry is lucky that his company culture is one that looks at safety as a priority, not just a buzzword. “One of the safety slogans at the railroad—and there are stickers of this everywhere, and on every locomotive, is ‘there is no job so important, or service so urgent, that we cannot take the time to do it safely’.” At Hughes Environmental, we feel the same way. (We’ve even won the NADCA Outstanding Achievement Safety Award every year we’ve been in business.)

Training is an important part of worker safety, and so is proper equipment. Giving employees the resources they need to stay safe with combustible dust is the difference between a safe job and a potential catastrophe. Proper clothing, grounded equipment, including hoses and lifts, and intrinsically safe vacuums are some of the tools our technicians use to do combustible dust remediation safely.

Please make sure your employees are reporting combustible dust fires, explosions and hazards, or any other safety issues in your facility. Even if they’re small, they could be significant.

For more information on combustible dust safety, visit www.HughesEnv.com