This week we continue to explore the themes being highlighted in 2016’s National Safety Month. Every June the National Safety Council (NSC) encourages us to raise health and safety awareness throughout our lives. Last week we talked about how “Safety Smart” employers can promote workplace wellness. In honor of this week’s theme, “Watch Out For Danger,” we’ve gathered some top tips for ensuring the success of workplace hazard observation programs.
Make Proactive Hazard Identification a Priority
The safety industry typically identifies hazards by looking at history. We can understand what hazards are high risk by looking at injury statistics, for example. Similarly, standards, legislation and regulation are based on lessons that have been learned historically.
But identifying a hazard after it has led to an incident is easy – after all, hindsight is 20/20. Anticipating a hazard with the potential to lead to an incident that has never previously occurred is definitely more challenging, but it has a far greater impact. This is why activities like job safety analysis are so important. They give us the opportunity to predict what could go wrong, before it does go wrong.
To do this effectively, we must look beyond our history and past experience to try to imagine negative outcomes that haven’t yet occurred, but are still possible. It may be a more energy-intensive exercise, but it’s a worthwhile one. Taking advantage of a fresh pair of eyes (whether a manager, a health and safety professional, or an outside consultant) can often help here, as someone new to a situation may spot potential hazards that more accustomed workers overlook.
Get Everyone In On the Action
Along this same line, the more eyes and ears you can take advantage of, the better. Typically a company will have identified specific employees who are responsible for conducting hazard assessments and regular inspections to identify and address any hazards present. But a safety smart workforce encourages and enables all employees to “Watch Out For Danger” and report hazards as they see them. In some cases, a way to do this anonymously can help workers to feel comfortable reporting hazards they might otherwise have not reported.
But in order to get the most out of your employees in this area, you need to empower them with hazard identification training. Training widely and frequently in this area will provide you with the best results. Unfortunately, one big challenge for safety managers is that people often quickly forget what they’ve learned. This is particularly true if they don’t have the opportunity to immediately put their new knowledge to use. So give your employees the chance to put their knowledge into action! For example, consider holding a monthly contest where you ask employees to spot the hazard, and seek out their input on the best way to address the hazards identified.
Always Consider the Human Element
Hazards can take many forms, including chemical hazards, material handling hazards, machine hazards, etc. To properly identify many hazards, however, we need to understand human judgment and decision making. A hazard is often not present until we see how humans interact with their surroundings. Ergonomic hazards are one of the most logical examples. A work station may appear to be entirely free of hazards, but when an employee performs their work at that station it can become apparent that the movements required are awkward or even potentially dangerous.
It’s also important to consider the reality that humans are fallible. Some of the best advice I have heard given is to avoid designing processes for perfect execution by imperfect human beings. It is unrealistic to expect your workers to execute perfectly each and every time. One day they will inevitably be distracted, or tired, or simply forgetful. This can create a hazard out of an otherwise unassuming situation. For example, a seemingly small change in floor surface in the manufacturing plant may appear to be of no concern. However, for an employee distracted by the weight of a heavy load, this could present a very real slip or trip hazard.
In order to successfully “watch out for danger,” avoid making too many assumptions in your hazard identification program about how employees will interact with their surroundings in the workplace.
“Watch Out For Danger” is a vital concept to integrate into your company’s safety culture. “Safety Smart” employers are well aware of the legal requirements in this area, but they also go above and beyond by encouraging all employees to take personal responsibility for hazard identification and resolution.
Visit the National Safety Council’s website for more information on National Safety Month and other workplace safety resources.
How does your workforce “watch out for danger”? Do you have any additional advice for safety professionals looking to encourage this behavior in their workforce? Leave a comment and let us know!