November 30, 2016
Did you know that over 3000 occupational safety incidents were investigated last year by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Malaysia; of which 214 resulted in death?1 In today’s fast paced and competitive industrial scenario, an often overlooked aspect of operation is safety at the workplace. There is a lot of literature and discussion on the subject and yet safety incidents continue to occur.
Interpreting the Work place safety statistics in Malaysia
Despite the emphasis on safety at the workplace each year, the recurring reasons for mishaps, after analysis of individual case reports on the official website of DOSH are2:
- Lack of clearly defined safety guidelines for common work procedures
- Failure to wear Personal Protective equipment
- Lack of knowledge about Occupational Safety Health hazards at the workplace
- Unsafe working conditions
It should also be noted that a high number of these unfortunate fatalities were preventable. Although it is impossible to bring these numbers down to zero in a highly dynamic and complex work environment, decisive steps should be taken to reduce the instances of preventable worker deaths.
Statistics indicate a high number of safety related incidents in the manufacturing sector, comparable to the numbers in the high risk manually intensive sectors like construction and transportation. Interestingly, the statistics from the US present a similar picture3; and there is a need to arrest this alarming trend.
Manufacturing is a high focus sector in Malaysia which churns out large revenues. Labs are largely prevalent in manufacturing companies to optimize the materials and processes involved in production. In addition there are a lot of stand-alone labs that operate on a much smaller scale but utilize highly specialized equipment and biochemical materials. It is in this context that lab safety becomes an important facet to business.
The need for Lab Safety Training
As a consultant, who regularly interacts with Life Sciences, Healthcare and Chemical industries and academic institutions in Malaysia, I perceive the need to have a renewed focus on lab safety. Substantiating this view is the fact that there have been multiple lab accidents reported in the last few months.4, 5, 6
The Malaysian Government has taken a big step forward in this pursuit by formulating a comprehensive list of guidelines to be followed, for enhanced safety. However, compliance with this large body of guidelines can be challenging for academic institutions as well as small and medium businesses. Additionally, companies undergo frequent employee augmentation. In such cases, a focused and live lab safety training specifically tailored to the organization’s needs is highly recommended. Although training modules are available online, in-person training has the following advantages:
- Customization of content according to the target audience
- Simulation of ‘real-world’ scenarios to educate the audience on how to react during specific situations
- Feedback and instant addressing of employee concerns, in companies
- Impartial review of existing safety procedures by accomplished and experienced trainers
- Greater employee engagement which encourages higher degree of personal accountability, in companies
Changing the Lab Safety Mindset
Beyond the technical aspects, there is a psychological and behavioral aspect to lab safety. It is as much a state of mind as it is a set of rules. It is commonly observed that lab staff get complacent and do not prioritize lab safety. It is tempting to liken the evolution of lab safety mindset to the five widely accepted stages of change:
When a safety incident occurs, it is important to reassess and reinforce the safety culture in the organization. We should guard against complacency regarding lab safety. We need to promote a holistic view of lab safety to improve operational efficiency, enable optimal use of resources and prevent costly mishaps which impact the bottom line. More importantly, we need to encourage others around us to care more about health, safety and the environment. After all, ‘safety does not happen by accident’!
1. Occupational Accidents Statistics by Sector Until December 2015. Department of Occupational Safety and Health. http://www.dosh.gov.my/index.php/en/archive-statistics/2015/1713-occupational-accidents-statistics-by-sector-until-december-2015 .
2. Fatal Accident Case. Department of Occupational Safety and Health. http://www.dosh.gov.my/index.php/en/component/content/article/352-osh-info/accident-case/955-accident-case.
3. EMPLOYER-REPORTED WORKPLACE INJURIES AND ILLNESSES – 2015. Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/osh.pdf
4. Port Dickson School Laboratory closed after chemical spill. New Straits Times Online Malaysia, 12 August 2016. http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/08/165121/port-dickson-school-laboratory-closed-after-chemical-spill
5. Three students injured school lab mercury spill. New Straits Times Online Malaysia, 29 September 2016. http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/09/176816/three-students-injured-school-lab-mercury-spill
6. Probe Acid Spill. The Press Reader, Star News Malaysia, 30 September 2016. https://www.pressreader.com/