Monday, November 25, 2013

Personal Experience - An impactful way to increase safety awareness

Employees are exposed to different levels of personal safety risk in every workplace setting. One of the most influential ways to reduce personal risk tolerance is learning from individuals who have experienced safety-related tragedies first-hand. Often, an impactful story can heighten awareness and decrease risk tolerance.

While working with a mining company in South Africa, I received extensive training on the organization’s 11 Fatal Risk Protocols (FRP).  This list was composed of 11 work conditions and operations that had time and again led to fatalities. As a part of this training, the safety director, Mohlaba, described his father’s death, which was a result of one of the FRPs.  As I entered the underground mines, I remembered his personal story and found myself paying close attention to the potential risks posed by my surroundings. Because of Mohlaba’s decision to share his personal experience, my personal risk awareness had heightened. In retrospect, all 11 Fatal Risk Protocols were developed as a result of similar tragic stories. 

At one point in my career, I was operations director at an explosives manufacturing facility.  On separate occasions, I was approached by different employees that voluntarily shared a personal, safety-related tragedy. Their intent was not to shock me, but rather to bring attention to the dangers associated with a process and ultimately increase my awareness to the safety risks.

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 5,000 industrial work-related deaths, 50,000 vehicle-related deaths, and 60,000 off-the-job non-vehicular related deaths.  The number of medical cases for similar events is far larger.  Each of these incidents has personal stories that can effectively reduce our risk tolerance and the risk tolerance of others.  No matter where you live or work, developing a practice of regularly sharing safety event history can help you and your organization reduce injuries on and off the job.  Why not give this a try?

The Doc

Monday, November 18, 2013

Leading Indicators - Improving the safety culture of your organization

Improving an organization’s safety culture and performance requires more than just measuring the injuries that we are trying to prevent. Near-miss reporting, safety work orders, and safety contacts increase safety awareness; however, employee engagement is the determining factor in effectively establishing an organization’s safety culture.
This concept is supported by Dr. Dan Petersen’s “Six Criteria for Safety Excellence:”
  • Upper management’s visible commitment to safety
  • Middle management’s active involvement in safety
  • Equal focus on safety performance and  operation deliverables
  • High level employee involvement in safety
  • Flexibility
  • Positive perception of safety by the workforce
In operations-focused cultures, involvement in these six areas can present a major challenge. In order to improve one’s safety culture, it is crucial that upper management demonstrates an ongoing, visible commitment to safety. By remaining accountable to these safety practices, management becomes the driving force to achieving engagement from the rest of the organization. Since “what gets measured is what gets done,” outlining quality leading metrics involving safety accountabilities will help engage upper management.  These safety accountabilities should deliver viable leading indicators and need to be practiced regularly by each level of the organization.

To learn more about improving the safety culture in your workplace, tune in to this month’s webinar on November 20. Zach Knoop, a former corporate safety director and now a project manager with Caterpillar Safety Services, will be sharing his personal experiences developing leading indicators for a multibillion dollar corporation.

The Doc

Monday, November 11, 2013

Voluntary Actions – Being in control

We all engage in activities outside of work that have risks.  In our personal lives, it is normal for our risk tolerance to increase; however, with increased risk comes increased probability of injury.  A recent National Safety Council (NSC) report revealed that about 70% of all medical case injuries occur off the job, along with about 90% of fatal injuries.

Nine out of 10 deaths and about 70% of the medically consulted injuries suffered by workers in 2010 occurred off the job. While nearly 14 times the number of deaths occur off the job compared to on the job (13.8 to 1), more than twice as many medically consulted injuries occur off the job (2.7 to 1).

Source: National Safety Council estimates.

I’m reminded of a quote from Albert Einstein:  “There are only two infinites; the universe and human stupidity.  I am not all that sure of the former.”  Evaluate your own recreational activities and the risks involved. Often, in activities outside of work, you’re exposed to much higher risk with much lower personal protection. For example, consider riding a motorcycle. Would your company consider trading in their work vehicles for these high-power, two-wheeled cycles?  My thoughts go to my activities and risks that are unthinkable on the job.

What can you do to prevent this kind of personal risk? A safety professional I worked with created a “Stop and Think Card” to help prompt personal risk assessment for both on and off the job activities.  This laminated, wallet- sized card asks:
  • What is the scope of what I am about to do?

  • How could this scope change to become more dangerous?

  • What could go wrong?

  • How bad could it be?

  • Do I clearly understand my tasks?

  • Am I physically and mentally prepared?

  • How can I reduce the personal risks to myself and others?
Before I begin my weekly farm chores, I ask myself these questions and then actively work to reduce my personal risks. I try and make it a habit to apply this process to any activity involving personal risk, regardless of the risk level.   By applying this concept, I have a noticeably higher peace of mind about my safety. Why not consider a similar personal commitment for you and your work organization?

The Doc

Monday, November 4, 2013

Safety Warnings – The severity of the outcome

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on personal risk assessment. Read the series introduction here.

It seems that many of the safety warnings in our workplaces minimize the potential seriousness of an incident related to the warning signage or JSA document.  This downplayed evaluation of such dangers gives employees a false sense of security and reduces their personal risk awareness and caution.
  • Pinch points are more often crush points or potentially fatal crush areas. 

  • Hot water is not the same temperature as bath water.  Water that is 150°F or above will scald and can potentially kill those who come in contact with it.

  • Gas warning signs do not adequately portray the danger of toxic fume inhalation or the fatal effect when flammable gases are ignited.

  • Fall protection signs do not convey the high probability of permanent disability or death from falls as short as four feet.

  • High visibility clothing and spotters do not sufficiently reduce the risk of death by crushing.

  • High voltage warning signs do not fully communicate the severity of the risk of electrocution.

  • Confined space warnings do not portray the numerous deaths which have occurred as a result of this work area danger.

  • The warning of a potential trench collapse fails to represent the number of deaths by suffocation that occur every year from this very real danger.
My guess is that many of you can add to this list of workplace dangers that are not described to the full magnitude of their potentially tragic consequences.  This abbreviated description can cause employees to let their guard down and expose themselves to dangerous safety risks.

How do you combat this?  Warning signs, safety videos, and computer programmed safety training do not adequately educate employees on the potential safety dangers indicated by warning signage.   A far more effective technique is front-line training by individuals who have been or are currently exposed to the safety dangers.  There is also value in learning from individuals who have experienced safety-related tragedies first-hand.  For many of the above risks, an impactful story would heighten awareness and decrease the risk tolerance of those who face such workplace dangers.

I once worked with a mining company that constructed a list of Fatal Risk Protocols. Each year, every employee received extensive training in 11 underground issues that had time and again led to fatalities. The concept of this training reflects “Stop and Think”: what could happen, and how severe are the consequences?

What safety risks exist in your workplace, and how can you effectively communicate the severity of the outcome?

The Doc

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