Safety Innovations: A Race to be the Best
Safety committees (pit crews) are a great place to start when looking for safety solutions.
By Jessica Bohan, Safety and Health Consultant
Safety is a non-stop process in which everyone must be involved to effectively make it work. With a new year upon us, it seems fitting to discuss safety solutions for your workplace that are practical, affordable and easy to use.
Being an avid race fan, I recently spent a frigid weekend at the Daytona Beach International Speedway's “Roar Before the 24.” For years, I have watched how safety rules, restrictions and ideas have changed this industry. Some safety requirements, such as the mandatory use of the HANS (head and neck support) device, have resulted from tragic incidents including Dale Earnhardt’s untimely death February 18, 2001. According to a March 2008 Popular Mechanics article, other recent innovations were developed to protect drivers, including an adjustable rear wing used to improve stability, a reinforced fuel tank to protect against punctures, a repositioned driver location toward the center of the car, and double frame rails to protect against side impact. Simpler innovations such as speed limits on pit row, officials wearing helmets, required hearing protection, and flammable liquid storage and use practices have also been implemented to enhance safety around the track. While it is true scientists have performed research and testing to develop some of these products, many ideas originated from a driver or a pit crew member.
I enjoy looking out for safety changes and innovations in the race pit. It is always funny to watch the different teams' reactions when I take pictures of their fire extinguisher placement or use of personal protective equipment. They think I want a picture of the driver or crew chief; instead I smile and say “No, I just really like what you’ve done with your compressed gas cylinders this year.” If an industry based on speed can put safety in a front row seat so can other industries in the state of Florida.
Safety by nature is neither rocket science nor brain surgery. In fact, safety is very basic. The best innovations and solutions I have seen come from the employees themselves, not some high-priced product. Solutions are often engineered when a hazard cause is identified. An easy innovation I encountered this year was a hose clamp assembly being used to rub off stones and other foreign objects from tires after use. A simple innovation such as a $.50 hose clamp can maintain tires for longer and better use. An employee came up with the idea and I must admit after they let me rub a few tires, it really works!
Employee based solutions and inventions not only solve safety problems, but they can also be good for morale and a company's bottom line. By encouraging creativity your employees will see that your company is interested in their experience and ideas. Employees who feel they can make a positive difference feel valued and will continue to be a creative resource, inventing both safety ideas as well as ways to make production run smoother and more efficiently.
Racing-- like every other industry--is all about having an edge and keeping that edge to make fans and sponsors happy. Sound familiar? We operate in a world of tight money, time lines, stress and information overload. So how does safety fit into the picture? Being the best in your industry does not just require the best product or service; it's about having the best people and supplying these people with the tools and opportunities to make contributions to the workplace that matter. Is your product sustainable? Meaning, have you set up the foundation in your workplace for employees to be able to be creative with solutions and look for possible future problems?
Your company safety committee (think pit crew) is a great place to start when looking for solutions. Your employees work on a daily basis with the equipment and know it better than anyone else. Have them look into near misses or injuries. Have them keep asking “why” it happened until the real cause is found. Equip them with the tools they need such as training, support and a digital camera. You may find that your company moves from being reactive to proactive, and when that happens you win the race! Next time you have a safety hazard or production problem, remember to turn to your best resource--your employees for ideas and input. Good luck and happy racing!
St. John, Allen. (2008, March). Anatomy of NASCAR Crash. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved January 11, 2010 from http://www.origin.popularmechanics.com/automotive/motorsports/4249470.html
Photos by J. Bohan January 10, 2010