In this article, we will look at a new topic introduced in UPSC Engineering Services Exam (ESE) in prelims paper - Safety and its importance. We will try and cover all major points on this topic which will help you prepare it for UPSC ESE Prelims paper. 

What is Safety?

In general terms, safety means freedom or protection from harm, hazard, danger, risk, injury, accident or any damage. In an industrial context, it means the minimization of contact between human beings and hazardous conditions, and it majorly deals with prevention of physical injury to personnel and property. Industrial safety is a condition of operations in which, by controlling risks and hazards, accident free production is achieved. Safety is defined as a positive, well organized program based upon the knowledge of interaction and reaction between man and his working environment, which helps business organization to minimize personnel death, losses caused by injuries, fires, explosions and other occupational hazards. 

Safety is the opposite of DANGER. Freedom from hazards represents absolute safety, which is an ideal and a condition seldom realized. Safety is a situation with an acknowledgement of acceptable risks. Therefore, safety means to bring or keep the hazard level, below permissible safe level. It includes safety, health and environment (SHE) protection including protection of property. 

What is the need for Safety?

There are many benefits of maintaining a SAFE work environment, but first of all 'it is the RIGHT THING to do'. Any company which employs workers must work towards keeping the work environment safe. Responsible employers take the time and use company resources to make sure that each day people coming in to work are SAFE. The major benefits of maintaining a safe work environment are:

  1. workers are more comfortable to work 
  2. productivity levels increase
  3. absenteeism levels decrease
  4. profit margins increase
  5. workers can focus on serving the customers well

Companies can also save themselves from legal claims against worngful injury or death, insurance costs and unnecessary expenses. 

The formal safety program is a set of written documents that describe a company's safety policies, responsibilities and priorities. The program is so designed to bring structure and consistency into a company's accident prevention efforts. 

Central and State laws also require that critical jobsite hazards must be controlled through specific written programs and extra training for employees.

These programs are:

  • Confined space entry
  • Lock out/ Tag out
  • Fall protection
  • Scaffolding safety
  • Hazardous materials
  • Fire safety etc. 

The employee safety training programs must cover topics like:

  • accident prevention and safety promotions
  • safe working practices as per industry standards
  • safety compliance
  • accident and emergency response
  • use of personal protective equipment
  • safe use of equipment and machinary

An effective training program can reduce the number of injuries and deaths, property damage, legal liabilities, illnesses, compensation claims and absenteeism. 

Safety Management System (SMS)

A SMS is a series of defined, organization-wide processes that provide a basis for effective risk-based decision making related to daily business. SMS focusses on maximizing opportunities to continuously improve the overall safety of the system. The key processes of an SMS are:

  • Hazard identification - a method to identify hazards related to your organization. 
  • Occurence reporting - a process for the acquisition of safety data.
  • Risk management - a standard approach for assessing risks and for applying risk controls.
  • Performance measurement - management tools for analyzing whether the organization's safety goals are being achieved.
  • Quality/ Safety assurance - processes based on quality management principles that support continuous improvement of the organization's safety performance.

The roles and responsibilities of an SMS are:

  • The senior management is accountable for establishing the SMS and allocating the necessary resources to support and maintain an effective SMS. 
  • The management of the organization is responsible for implementing, maintaining and adhering to SMS processes in their area, and
  • Employees are responsible for identifying hazards and reporting them.

SMS is beneficial to an organization in the following ways:

  • It provides a basis for a more informed decision making process.
  • It improves the safety by reducing/ eliminating the risk of accidents. 
  • It provides for a better resource allocation that results in increased efficiencies and reduced costs. 
  • It demonstrated corporate due diligence.

What SMS is not:

  • Self-regulation/ deregulation
  • A stand alone department
  • A substitute for oversight
  • An undue burden

What SMS does:

  • Builds on existing processes,
  • Integrates with other management sytems by making a flexible regulatory framework for the organization, and
  • Demonstrates good business practice.

Difference between SMS and Quality management system (QMS):

  • SMS focuses on the safety aspects of an organization.
  • QMS focuses on the services and products of an organization.
  • QMS works on conformity, SMS focuses on hazards. Both non-conformities and hazards can have an impact on safety.
  • Both systems enhance safety and are essential and complimentary management tools. We cannot have an effective SMS without applying quality management principles.

Important aspects of SMS:

Legislative Compliance Audits:

These type of audits can be specific and undertaken to determine if workplace practices are meeting legislative requirements. Compliance audits are conducted to ensure the workplace meets the requirements of the Factories Act, 1948. A compliance audit will identify hazards, unsafe work practices and procedures, and systems of work do not meet legislated standards. The hazards addressed during a legislative compliance audit are determined by the workplace environment along with information obtained from specific training, relevant injury data and industry input. The outcomes of legislative compliance is being achieved or if further actions are required to meet legislative standards.

Hazard specific audits:

Hazard specific audits address particular issues such as lifting of glassware, or using hazardous substances, and involve the inspection and testing of current workplace control methods . This type of audit has a narrow focus and looks at the effectiveness of policies and procedures in dealing with specific hazards. 

Management system Audits:

Management audits have a wider scope. In addition to working as a hazards and risk control mechanism, it also looks at workplace structures, planning activities, responsibilities, implemented procedures, review cycles and measurement and evaluation issues. The management system is a planned, documented and verifiable method of managing Work and Safety hazards. Some of the basic characteristics of a occupational health and safety management system are as follows:

  • Management commitment
  • Existence of a health and safety policy that is communicated to staff
  • Allocation of resources and responsibilities for health and safety issues
  • Health and safety consultation
  • Hazard identification, evaluation and control
  • Provision of information and training of staff.

In the next article, we will look at the concept of Occupational Health and Industrial Hygiene.