This case study is discussing the scenario of an engineer who dealing with the occupational hazard which she found in the workplace while working on process re-layout design. The hazard identified was a fibreglass dust and it has been existed for the past ten years. No current measure has been taken to overcome the hazard, as well as no safer workplace has been introduced by the employer.
In this case, it seems that there is no safety awareness among employee neither employer exist. They don't have a knowledge neither being train how to work with hazardous material and how the material could affect their health. The company has a legal obligation to provide information, instructions, training and supervisions to the employees on hazards to which they are exposed. Employees also need to be trained to use safety equipments and gears.(Stranks, 2008)
As an employee at work, they are legally obligated to reasonably care for self health and safety as well as for other person they are working with. (Stranks, 2008)
The other concern in this case is the material which classified as a hazardous material does not treated according to the health and safety regulations. Inhalation of glass fibres can cause pre-existing conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. Skin contact to fibre glass can cause a temporary dermatitis. Precautions should be taken even though there is no evidence that the fibre glasses used in the composite industry are carcinogenic in humans. (Composites Association of New Zealand,1998)
It is clear that the employee had been exposed to the hazard materials for a long period of time. It has to stop immediately as it would cause more harm to the employees. The employee could report the hazards in the workplace to the department of labour and the company could face serious charges from the authority. A departmental medical practitioner may suspend an employee from any work that is causing them to be harmed by exposure to a significant hazard (section 37). (Department of Labour, n.d.,para 57)
It appears that in this case the room which is used to carry out the process was not properly built as regulated in the building code. Hazardous material workrooms are supposed to comply with the requirements of the Dangerous Goods Regulations. (CANZ,1998). In this case, the proper ventilation system should be built since the hazardous materials are currently being process in a confined space.
Again it is a legal responsibility for the employer to provide the save and healthy workplace for the employee. According to New Zealand Department of Labour (n.d., p.4) " All employers have duties under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees at work, and other people in the workplace."
Health and Safety Policy
It appears that currently there is no health and safety policy implemented in this company." Even thought the act does not require an employer to prepare a formal written statement of health and safety policies. However, in some workplaces it may be good practice to obtain written confirmation of agreed safety and health policies and the way they are to be implemented as a basis on which to be proceed. Usually, the larger the enterprise and the numbers of people involved, the more useful it will be to prepare a formal statement of health and safety policies and procedures." (Department of Labour, n.d.,para 45)
DEALING WITH THE ISSUES
The issue could be resolved in several ways of approach. It is totally depends to the company decisions. As a company there are several factors to consider. Cost, regulations and employee welfare are the factors to consider. Whatever it is, the immediate action should be taken. Refer to figure 1, the hazard management process diagram as recommended by New Zealand Department of Labour shows the process flow on how to deal with the hazards at workplace. It is the least the company could do and to start with. This basic process plan in managing hazard is a reasonable process for all company to follow.
Although the hazard management process supposes to be implemented in the health and safety policy which is obviously has not been introduced by this company, but in this case study we are looking at actions in the process flow as a perspective to deal with the issues.
Get rid of the problem.
First option, the company could just get rid of the hazard eliminate it. This could be achieved by sublet the process to another contractor. Viewing from difference perspective this option will affect the manufacturing cost as well as the process control. By subletting the process the company will not have a control on the process and quality of the product.
This option will also create lost of employment, which will not bring any benefit to the employee and company. The only advantage of this approach is for short term basis as the company don't have to invest in rebuilding a proper new workplace and work systems.
Figure1. (New Zealand Department of Labour, n.d.)
Keep people away from the hazard
The other way of resolving the issue is by keeping the employee away from the hazard. It could be accomplish by putting the automated process in place. The company will need to invest with new equipment which will carry out the process automatically. The workroom will be isolated from peoples. This option will be the most costly option for the company. Besides rebuilding the new infrastructure of the manufacturing process, some of the employee will lost the job too. For long term this approach could bring a benefit to the company as the process get automated more output could be generated.
Provide a saver workplace and minimize the hazard.
The last option will be to deal with the situation by introducing a safe workplace and safety gears to the employee. By doing this, the company have to comply with the health and safety requirement in workplaces. This approach will also require the company to introduce the health and safety policy.
Regardless of any decisions made by the company, the company are still obliged to have the policy implemented it in the workplace. In fact, every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work.
The requirement is set out in the section 6 of the act. The general duty of employer is describe with the following particular duties:
Provide and maintain a safe working environment;
Provide and maintain facilities for the safety and health of employees at work;
Ensure that plant machinery and equipment in the place of work is designed, made, set up, and maintained to be safe for employees;
Ensure that systems of work do not lead to employees being exposed to hazards in or around their place of work; and
Develop procedures for dealing with emergencies that may arise while employees are at work.
(Department of Labour NZ, n.d.)
It is apparent that in this scenario, the company have been operating without compliance with the health and safety employment act (1992), as all the employers are obliged to provide the safe and healthy workplace for employees. Apparently, the significant hazards has not been identified and managed accordingly.
It seems that the employees are not aware with the hazards and has not been trained and acknowledge by the employer, with regard to the hazardous material they are working with. It is clear that there is no health and safety policy been introduce to the company.
In this situation the engineer must inform the company about the existing hazards in the workplace and insist the company to take a serious and immediate action against the hazards. Further, if the company failed or reluctant to do so, the engineer must file a report against the company to the respective authority such as Occupational Safety and Health Service of the Department of Labour (OSH). Serious action should be taken to the irresponsible employer like this.
Firstly, the situation must be reported to the higher management of the company. If the company agree to comply and implement the health and safety employment policy as in the acts, the policies have to be set up immediately, the safety and health committee have to be formed and the hazard management processes have to be carried out by accessing all the hazards in the workplace.
Then, the laminating press room have to stop the operation immediately. Those employees who have been exposing to the hazards should immediately undergo the medical check up.
Once the policy and the committee are in place, the implementation of the policy will take place and the laminating press room have to be renovated and installed with the proper ventilating system. Since the original task of the engineer to re-layout the laminating press room, those allocated cost should be used to accomplish it. While planning the re-layout design all the health and safety requirement for the laminating press room should be considered. The employees who work with in the hazardous area to be equipped with all the safety gears such as, safety goggles, boots and face masks.
Next step is to provide all the employees the training on health and safety awareness at workplace, as well as the emergency plan and procedures. The employees need to be informed of their duty and responsibilities of the health and safety employment act (1992).
Finally those implemented policy have to be monitored and annually audited in order to ensure all the action plan have been carried out and implemented according to the plan. The policy also needs to be reviewed periodically to access the current situation and maintain the health and safety of the employees.
There is no doubt in this case the best option for the company as well as for the employee is to implement a proper health and safety policy in the workplace. By implementing the health and safety management systems, all the safety related issue will be assess. It will not just resolve the issue in the lamination press room, but all other safety related issues will be surfaced.
Besides resolving the existing issues by implementing the health and safety policy, the company may be able to gain other benefits through it. At same time, the obligation as an employer has been fulfilled. A healthy employee will create a healthy company, and a healthy company may increase employees' commitment and productivity.