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Rich McElhaney travels the globe to tell people about the severe injuries he sustained while attending water lance training in New Jersey. His experience highlights the importance of pre-planning and safety preparedness.


Rich is no stranger to the world of safety with 26+ years in the field, a B.S. in Occupational Safety and Health Management from Slippery Rock University, and a Master’s Degree in Safety Management from West Virginia University.


When talking about his traumatic experience, he points out the direct and indirect costs of the day he got injured and the days that followed. Instead of focusing on a dollar amount to be saved, he wants to stress six key factors in having an effective safety management program.


First, he asks these five questions to get someone thinking about their current safety situation. Then he gives them the proper safety actions to improve it to make sure they stop > think > prevent.

  1. Does your company plan ahead for safety?

  2. Does your management team recognize the commitment it takes to create genuine safety culture practices?

  3. Do your managers understand the consequences their day-to-day actions can have on the safety of your employees?

  4. Is a cost/benefit relationship established by management when considering and supporting a zero-harm safety culture?

  5. Does your safety culture define the importance of a “near miss”?


6 Steps To An Effective Safety Management Plan


1. Pre-Planning With Job Safety Analysis

Rich sums this up in a phrase of his own, “There’s no wrong JSA as long as everyone knows how to speak your company safety language.” Keeping everyone on the same page is critical to an understanding of safety practices, plans, and procedures. JSA’s are how safety leaders and employees communicate hazards and how to control them. We must train our employees on how to speak our safety language.


2. Gather In A Morning Safety Huddle

Bring employees together to go through a JSA, plan the work, work the plan into the day, and allow for breaks so you can actively practice 2-way communication. Doing this will ensure that your employees start their day off with a focus on safety. Ask them for their input on the task at hand. Chances are they have done the task before and can give critical information on how to complete the task safely.


3. Do A Weekly Or Monthly Inspection

Safety professionals aren’t safety police and they shouldn’t have to be. Ask your Supervisor if an employee can accompany the safety professional during the job-site walkthrough. Your employees know your work sites best. Besides them being well informed about the everyday work life they will feel connected to the inspection and process to improve safety.


4. Enact Safety Observation Programs

It gets people involved and is a great opportunity for incentives. Every employee, once a week, observes work practices and labels them “safe or at risk” with an explanation and when it’s corrected. If an employee turned in all four weeks of observations, they would earn a $50 gift card as a reward.


“It’s a great way to get everyone looking out for each other. When you’re out on the site, you’re like a family. Behavior-based observations allow safety pros to focus in on where the good is and where we’re lacking. At risk behaviors are easily detected and what’s causing it; training, immediate hazards, lack of two-way communication. Things can go wrong with a breakdown in communications. Garbage in - Garbage out.”


5. Define Near-Miss Reporting Vs. Lessons Learned

Lessons learned are when someone is hurt or something is damaged and you stop to put procedures in place so it never happens again.


A near miss action occurs when no one is hurt and nothing is damaged but we still stop to put preventative procedures in place.


Rich gives an example of steel flying off a truck and not hitting anyone. No one is hurt and nothing is damaged but now is the time to stop and figure out why it happened and how to make sure it won’t happen in the future.


The #1 reasons someone doesn’t report a near-miss is because they think they’ll get in trouble. There is a difference between reporting a near-miss and breaking a safety rule. If a hammer falls out of the sky and almost hits someone,  it is a near miss. Stop the job and ask why it fell...Are the tools properly tethered?


6. Stress Safety Importance To New Employees

Rich says this doesn’t happen as often as it should. All the best safety programs should have a leadership member come in after orientation and talk to new workers separately. Rich knows from experience what it’s like to give bad news to family members that don’t come home from work. Talking to new employees might help them to better understand why safety measures are in place.


In presenting his experience all around the world, Rich wants everyone to understand that even the pros can get hurt. He brings up a good point that we don’t realize what the cost of an incident can be outside of just money. To his family, it was the potential loss of a father and husband. To his company, it was a multi-million dollar mistake that could have been avoided by following easy steps like the ones above to better prepare yourself and keep employees safe.






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