Monday, December 30, 2013

Role Models Accepting Risk – Personal risk assessment

It is frustrating for me to see organizations’ inability to effectively address and resolve notable role model personnel who continue to take significant risks. Sometimes it is:

• Inexperienced work groups that are just trying to get the job done without adequate operations or safety knowledge
• Personnel who resist any kind of change as a supposed threat to their power
• Management leadership where the focus on output trumps all other considerations
• Employees who have always done a task in a way that is no longer acceptable in a safety culture which is more focused on preventing the possibility of incidents

Sometimes these key poor safety role model personnel are punished, or rewarded, or what seems most often the case; ignored. And yet their performance with respect to safety affects the decisions and actions of everyone around them.

In my opinion, role models who continue to take risks almost always deal with inconsistent and/or ineffective safety leadership who do not appropriately address the poor role model realities.

• Do we really know who the true safety role models are and what they are doing?
• Do we immediately address the unsafe issue and act to correct it?
• Do we appropriately counsel the poor safety role models who take risks?
• Do we place good safety role models in charge and reinforce their decisions to make the low safety risk approach the correct action?
• Are we visible in the workplace reinforcing the safe and productive culture?
• Do we reinforce the need for the work groups to stop whenever there is a safety concern, discuss the realities of the situation and then choose the safe low risk alternatives? This is not a search for an excuse not to do a job, rather it is a search for the ways to do tasks safely.

A poor safety role model culture requires strong safety leadership commitment and accountabilities from personnel who continually engage in demanding a safety culture of correct.

The Doc

Monday, December 23, 2013

Economic Demand – the impact on employee safety

It seems that workplace injuries are directly influenced by economic situations. As the price of raw materials increases, there is a natural tendency to take additional risks to produce more volume. . As the end of the calendar quarter approaches, there is added pressure to meet goals or deadlines. As downtime increases, maintenance safe guards are compromised to get the line back up and running as soon as possible.

As a company strives to meet economic demand, it becomes easy to focus on producing a higher volume of product at maximum efficiency. When fast production and higher volume take priority, process and procedure shortcuts can occur, which compromise safe operation necessities. Employees tend to lower their personal risk tolerance, which inevitably leads to increased injury rates. How can we, as an organization, create a culture of ‘doing it the right way’ versus ‘get it done?’ What actions need to be taken to ensure that employee safety is a top priority?

This issue has affected our industry for generations, and we often don’t realize the profit message that we are sending to employees. If risk is being promoted to meet economic demands, then decreased personal risk tolerance is being encouraged. When an individual lowers their personal risk tolerance, the probability of injury increases. Think about it from an analytical viewpoint – is the payoff for taking these risks worth the possibility of personal trauma and costs associated with injury or damage? When thinking about it from this perspective, safety first becomes beneficial for all parties involved. Take a moment to evaluate your organization. What type of profit message are you sending to your employees?

The Doc

Monday, December 16, 2013

Confidence in Protection & Rescue – Personal risk assessment

A corollary to over confidence in equipment is having too much confidence in our personal protective equipment (PPE).  Technology advances, in some cases, have led us to be more confident in PPE preventing injuries thus increasing our personal risk tolerances to the dangers around us. Some examples include:

  • Fire resistant clothing that does not burn when exposed to flame:  When wearing fire resistant clothing, individuals may take risks that they would have not taken otherwise.  While Nomex does not burn, it does get very hot and can still burn the employee wearing the protective gear. 
  • Gas detectors designed to warn of the presence of dangerous gases:  Often, gas detectors are designed to detect specific gases. For example, H2S monitors do not alarm in the presence of flammable gases that do not contain H2S, leaving other dangerous gases undetected.
  • Crush resistant gloves designed to protect the hands:  While crush resistant gloves protect individuals from minor forces of impact, they do not protect against high-impact forces or amputations.

To prevent decreased personal risk tolerance, an individual should work as if unprotected. Working as if exposed to various levels of safety risk can help individuals take accountability for their safety rather than solely relying on the technology of PPE. By understanding the limitations of PPE, one can identify the risk, mitigate the dangers, improve safety systems functionalities and use PPE as a final line of defense. 

Another common worksite over confidence is relying upon rescue and medical technology.  The real deterrent to this over confidence that leads to higher personal risk is to understand the limitations of protection and rescue measures. Air and ambulance evacuation for remote or local sites, for example, can take too long.  Without a doubt, the improved technologies that exist are meant to be the last line of defense.

We must first try to eliminate the risk, then mitigate the dangers, improve our safety systems functionalities and leave PPE and medical treatment as a last line of defense, not something to be relied upon.  Maybe pre-job briefings that present the thought of each of us being older, less capable and unprotected to the dangers we can encounter is not such a preposterous concept to present before we step into work and off-the-job related risk environments. It may bring some realities to the forefront of one’s mind if we rely too much on rescue and medical technology.

The Doc  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Personal Risk Tolerance – Confidence in technology

In recent years, there have been significant advances in technology that have helped reduce injury risk.  A few examples include:
  • Bucket trucks which give better, more stable access at heights
  • Automatic Braking Systems (ABS) that help vehicles stop more quickly
  • Ground Fault Interrupting (GFI) electronics which reduce electrocution risk
These are just a few advances, and technology continues to improve and reduce injury risks in activities both on and off the job. As technology reduces risk, it is common for individuals to increase their personal risk tolerance. This phenomenon is known as risk homeostasis. Examples of risk homeostasis include:
  • An increase in aggressive driving as a result of more confidence in an ABS being able to stop the vehicle
  • Little or no change in parachute sport fatalities even though the equipment failures have been reduced dramatically (now, the predominate cause of fatality has shifted from no chute deployment (equipment failure) to delayed chute deployment (personal decision to delay chute deployment due to confidence in the equipment working))
Think about the technology improvements specific to your industry. What areas are at risk for overconfidence and increased personal risk tolerance?  I am sure we can each make a list of areas. I would suggest you do this exercise, and then evaluate how these advances have impacted your industry and your organization.

What is the solution to increased personal risk tolerance due to over confidence in the equipment?  One of the more effective ways to prevent increased personal risk tolerance is the stop and think card.  Before each job, stop, think and discuss: What could go wrong? How serious could it be? Am I physically and mentally prepared? How can I reduce the personal risks to myself and others? By applying this principle, your actions, and not technology, are responsible for your personal safety.

The Doc  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cardinal rules – Influencing noncompliance

Our personal risk tolerance is directly influenced by the severity of the outcome. If there is a high cost associated with a risk, we are more prone to comply with the rules set in place. While writing this article, I am reminded of today’s airline industry. It is not uncommon for travelers to experience a delay in their flight due to a maintenance issue. While this is a frustrating circumstance for the traveler, the cost of noncompliance for the airline is too high to take chances. Even small risks in this industry are not tolerated, and the airline must follow protocol to address the issue.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is noncompliance. While living near Boston, I experienced noncompliance first-hand on the expressways. I vividly remember our insurance agent handing me a copy of the book “The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets.”  While there are adequate rules of the road, in this instance, they were neither followed nor enforced to a significant degree. As a result, the insurance agent was quick to educate both me and my family on the common risks that we would encounter on the expressway.

It is common for high risk issues to be addressed by policies and procedures known as cardinal rules. Due to the severity of the outcome, there is often little tolerance for noncompliance to cardinal rules at any level of the organization.  Some examples of cardinal rules are:
  • Lock Out Tag Out associated with large multi-stand metal rolling mill operations and maintenance
  • Confined space work associated with the chemical process industries
  • Fall protection utilization on aerial work platforms in the construction industry
  • Substance abuse in oil field drilling operations
  • Family members texting while driving

Our personal risk tolerance is significantly reduced when cardinal rules are put in place. They help increase awareness on the severity of the risk associated with a task or process. Do you have cardinal rules both on and off the job? What are they?

The Doc

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