Consistent behavior, culture key to safely managing tasks

By |  March 24, 2014
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Why do injuries and fatalities occur in the workplace? Or, perhaps a better question would be, why do the same injuries and fatalities continue to occur?

When you analyze this closely, you realize that unsafe acts are typically the underlying cause to all injuries and fatalities that occur in the workplace. But if the same injuries continue to occur, we should be able to prevent them simply by not repeating the same mistakes.

“Unsafe acts are a large contributor to unsafe conditions,” says Sam Scribe, owner of Catamount Consulting Pennsylvania. “We have the ability to mitigate risk, but we will not remove it completely. The primary problem is people are risk takers.

“We learned this as soon as we started riding bicycles. We learn the safe procedures, get them down pat and ride with no hands. Then, we turn 16 and transition from pedal bikes to automobiles. We are still risk takers, but in less forgiving conditions. Our vehicles can be maintained in great condition, but then equipment failure can occur.”

The challenge to managing unsafe acts is people, Scribe adds. People are all different, and rules can only serve as a baseline. Instilling consistency in behavior and culture in an organization where more items are viewed as unacceptable is the key to managing unsafe acts.

Get educated

Regulatory agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) work to prevent unsafe conditions and keep companies on a baseline with monetary consequences. But these agencies have minimal control over unsafe acts.

Simply understanding the rules and assuring that proper workplace examinations are conducted regularly can achieve compliance with OSHA and MSHA. This is not to say compliance with OSHA and MSHA doesn’t lead to safer work environments. The point is that contractors, producers and others can be in compliance with the rules. But if they fail to assure proper training among their employees to understand unsafe acts, then failure to follow proper procedure is unacceptable.

Citations and injuries are expensive consequences to a producer’s bottom line. Proper education among owners, supervisors and employees to assure understanding of the company’s expectations is key to avoiding both.

“Driving is one of the most dangerous things most of us do daily,” says Ron Witt, a Catamount Consulting trainer. “It’s a fact. Yet those of us who drive climb into our vehicles without hesitation. In fact, we may even bring a coffee with us, tune our radio, eat breakfast or text someone.

“Not all of us do all of these things, but if you do and the results of these activities are good, over time we tend to start thinking of the activity as safe,” Witt continues. “If you think about it, why do we still find workers killed in confined spaces, machinery entanglements or falls from elevations? The absence of injuries during risky activities makes most of us think that activity is something we can handle. The more you handle it, the safer it becomes. At least that’s our perception.”

This is not to say employees can’t become very good at very risky activities, Witt adds.

“We can,” he says. “But most of those who do don’t think of what they are doing as safe. We, the average worker tend to believe that the dangerous things we used to do are now safe because we somehow have mastered them. Bad thinking on our part.”

This is true, Witt says, because risk is real.

“Now, this is not to say we are all doomed,” he says. “Ask yourself, have the results we experience been because we have used the tested and proven technology available to us, [including] lockout/tag-out, monitors and properly done inspections? Do we train ourselves or our workers for the specific tasks we need to do? Do we evaluate our dangerous work before we send ourselves out there?”

New thinking

The ability to analyze risks effectively is key for employees to keep themselves and others safe. People have a tendency to become complacent and overlook risky situations over time.

Risk analysis isn’t a tool today’s generation uses as effectively as previous generations did. Young people have different levels of exposure to risk than previous generations. In previous generations, kids learned from doing.

Today, it can be argued that kids aren’t given the same opportunities to learn from experience. This lack of experience sends people into the workforce who aren’t able to adequately assess the risk in situations. And it’s a mistake to teach people no risk exists.

As an example, consider backup cameras on vehicles. Giving operators false security by suggesting backup cameras will prevent them from backing into or over an object can lead them to inadequately assess a situation. This is when complacency sets in and incidents occur. People have to realize the risk involved when backing up a vehicle with blind spots and take the necessary precautions to conduct the task safely.

Risk analysis in industry is generally defined as Job Safety Analysis (JSA). JSA is the process of looking at an assigned task, determining what could go wrong and making the necessary adjustments to decrease risk prior to starting the task.

Let’s look at this analogy through a common task, incurring risks such as rigging. If the task is to rig a piece of equipment from the ground to the roof of a building, the number one risk analyzed in a JSA would be the equipment falling due to equipment failure.

A simple solution to the analyzed risk would be to assure no personnel are permitted under the equipment being lifted through the use of perimeter barriers and tag lines. Accidents by definition are unplanned events – unexpected releases of stored energy generally resulting in harm, damage or loss. Through proper risk analysis, planning and training, accidents should never occur on a jobsite.

Proper planning and communications through the chain of command are vital to the functionality of a company. A team is needed to develop a culture. To develop a team, you have to develop good communication.

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