Safety Is/Isn’t Easy? by Joseph J. Werbicki, M.S., CSP

Jan 19, 2018

As with any other premise, it depends. Where behaviors are involved, anything can happen, given the need for brain, eye and reflex coordination.

Think about playing a slot machine, specifically, one on which you can stop the reels. You have a situation where the eyes see, the brain reacts, and your reflexes tell you when to (try to) stop the reels. I say “try to” because you all know that the machine will fight you, and, more often than not, keep the other reels moving for a time after the first one has stopped.

Trouble is, you can’t always depend on your reflexes to get the job done. You must use your eyes and your brain as well as your reflexes to improve your odds of avoiding accidents.

Here are some possible accident prevention approaches:

  • Safety by design (integrating safety with machine functions)
  • On-the-job training
  • Job Safety (Hazard) Analyses to identify all safety hazards of a job and to prescribe the best ways to abate them
  • Awareness – attention to everything around us
  • See – Think – Act. The eyes see; the brain interprets and directs physical response
  • Hazard identification and abatement. You can’t fix what you don’t identify. Once identified, fix it
  • Guarding – barriers separate us from physical hazards
  • Strong enforceable safety policies – what people need to know, along with consequences, both hazard and discipline-wise
  • Signage – constant reminders of safety issues
  • Mentoring – one-on-one guidance when human performance is an issue
  • Mutual concern for each other’s safety
  • Putting safety on a par with productivity – a strong signal that workers are valued
  • Safety Culture – this is what we do

 

Safety culture revolves around the attitudes surrounding the role of safety in an organization, and consists of a number of elements:

  • Accident and near-miss reporting
  • Correcting what you can correct yourself
  • Pointing out hazards
  • Mentoring
  • Everyone is involved in safety
  • Safety is an integral part of each job
  • Effective accident investigation and implementation of corrective action

 

Sometime you can’t really come up with a corrective action, because it appears that only human factors might be involved. As an example, suppose someone trips over the curbing in the parking lot, and is injured. What corrective action might be considered?

  • There is no OSHA policy regarding curb height requirements
  • However, Federal Highway guidelines prescribe heights of 4 – 8 inches, with the typical height of 6 inches
  • Does the curbing height vary over its length?
    • Typical riser heights on stairs are 6 – 9.5 inches
    • OSHA prescribes that stair risers “shall be uniform within each flight of stairs to within ± ¼ inch”
  • The curbing has been there forever, with no tripping incidents reported
  • Is there sufficient contrast between the roadway and the sidewalk colors?
  • Place signs reminding people to walk carefully?
  • Publicize accident to raise awareness?
  • If all else fails to identify a root cause, we may have to accept the fact that the cause is “undetermined”

 

“Told employee to be more careful” might fill in the blanks on an accident investigation report, but feedback and information sharing are needed to raise awareness to the hazard(s), along with attempting to developing procedures to avoid recurrences.

A challenging part of safety is getting buy-in. Maybe we simply need to emphasize “going home safe” in the back of our minds.

 

Joseph Werbicki is a Safety Consultant, Trainer and Author. His articles have appeared in Occupational Health & Safety, EHS Today, and newsletters of the Boston, Springfield (MA) and Worcester (MA) ASSE Chapters. Contact him at joe.werbicki@comcast.net for a copy of an Executive Summary of his comprehensive safety training program.