Non-routine tasks arise in nearly every workplace and can present multiple risks to employees. For standard, everyday processes, understanding risks and how to minimize interaction with these risks is fairly straightforward to evaluate and control. When unexpected tasks need to be addressed quickly, it can be challenging to assess and manage the issue in a safe manner. Thus, it is critical that every facility understands and prepares for non-routine tasks.
Common non-routine tasks include emergency maintenance, natural disasters, confined space entry, and chemical spill cleanups. Oftentimes, during these emergencies, speed is prioritized over safety. This type of quick, unplanned work can result in severe injuries if adequate assessments and preparations are not made.
Non-routine tasks can also include tasks conducted for the first time, infrequent tasks, tasks assigned that are outside of an employee’s regular duties, and tasks performed differently than the originally documented procedure. Although a task may be routine for one employee, the same may not be true for a new employee or an employee who stepped into a new role. It is critical for employees who are conducting non-routine tasks to have the time, resources, and training before they begin their work.
Reacting vs Responding
Preparation is the key difference between reacting and responding. When we react, we act spontaneously and rely on our instincts. If an employee is inexperienced or is working too quickly without taking into consideration safety measures, then this type of reactionary work can lead to a serious injury. In contrast, when we respond, our actions are planned, and there is a framework to work within, which can help manage risks and reduce the probability of injuries.
A facility that is prepared to respond would have the necessary equipment, PPE, and employee training prior to the event. This type of preparation allows the team to manage non-routine tasks in a safe and efficient manner.
The first step towards minimizing the risks associated with non-routine tasks is to proactively identify unexcepted circumstances that may arise. For example, although a roof leak may be infrequent, if the leak occurs whenever there is heavy rainfall, it can be anticipated that it will occur again. Thus, the facility can prepare for this task by conducting an assessment and developing a procedure for repairing the roof.
Active safety committees with representation from different departments can be especially useful when trying to understand and assess various non-routine tasks throughout the facility. To start, the facility should assemble and agree upon a list of non-routine tasks that need to be evaluated. Once identified, the team can work together to observe and document any risks, hazards, and areas of concern for each task. The team can then work together, and/or with third-party specialists to establish a formal working procedure to address the specific non-routine task.
Job Hazard Assessments
Job Hazard Assessments should identify risks and hazards, detail how to execute the task in a manner that avoids these risks and hazards, and specify the required equipment and PPE. The information should be reviewed with all applicable employees and should be presented in a clear, detailed manner. The team should then observe the employee execute the procedure and determine if any deficiencies need to be addressed.
It is critical to periodically review the assessments and non-routine tasks to ensure that the procedure is adequate and addresses all safety concerns. This periodic review is also useful in assessing an employee’s competency with the procedure. The regular review of hazardous tasks encourages employees to take a deeper look into the hazards and risks associated with their work.
Collaborative efforts within a facility are the key to understanding and addressing the safety concerns associated with non-routine tasks. Each department and each employee face their own unique challenges and job tasks; their input and insight can be particularly useful when trying to understand the nuances of non-routine tasks.
Without careful evaluation and preparation, employees who conduct non-routine tasks can be at risk for serious injuries. Although developing procedures and protocols for non-routine tasks can be time-consuming and potentially costly, it is a necessary step toward ensuring the safety and well-being of your employees.
If you need assistance with Job Hazard Assessments or any other steps in the prevention process, U.S. Compliance is ready to help with all of your injury prevention needs.