Safety First

Kent O'Sullivan: It could happen to you

Thursday, 1 December 2005 ( #237 )
Kent O'Sullivan is a Certified Master Instructor Trainer with The Columbia Compliance Group. Columbia Compliance Group is a safety consulting firm that specialises in offering professional mobile equipment safety training programs & publications throughout North America.
Most workplace incidents are the result of unsafe practices or acts. Recognising that, most employers today invest a great deal of time and money in programs and training aimed at creating safe workplaces for their employees. The end result they seek is the elimination of unsafe behaviour and hazardous conditions. But, in spite of employers' best efforts, there are still some employees who exhibit unsafe behaviour. Addressing that can be challenging. If you examine accident reports from years past, the most frequently identified root cause for the majority of incidents is unsafe acts, rather than unsafe or hazardous conditions. And, more troubling still, most unsafe acts are attributed, at least in part, to employees' views on safety. They either stopped paying attention to what they were doing or took shortcuts and unnecessary risks. They developed an 'it will not happen to me' mindset. If some employees have lapsed into that kind of thinking and are not mindful of their safety habits as they go about their daily duties, they are not personally safe. Nor are their co-workers or anyone else around them. It is essential that such employees be trained, or re-trained, to think ahead as they approach each task, considering:
  • what they are working with,
  • what they will be doing,
  • where they will be going, and
  • what could happen.
Such training or review must encourage employees to always look for possible hazards and examine the substances, equipment, procedures and situations that are part of their jobs. They should be reminded that to be safe on an ongoing basis, they must focus physically and mentally on their work, no matter how many times they may have performed the same job requirements. It should be impressed upon them that accidents occur in the blink of an eye, during perhaps one second of inattention or one moment of carelessness. The wrong on-the-job safety attitude can injure or kill. For some employees, familiarity with tasks repeated daily over an extended time leads to a relaxed attitude. That in turn may spread like a disease from one employee to another. As a result, 'if they can take shortcuts, why can't I?' thinking could emerge. For safety's sake alone, that mind-set must not be allowed to prosper. The importance of regular attention to safety training and reviews for all employees cannot be over-stated. Employers should use safety meetings and other training opportunities to get the message across that wrong thought processes are as dangerous as any machine, chemical or other recognised workplace hazard. Through a strong commitment to safety training and awareness, employers create a safety culture that seeks out and eliminates the relaxed 'I've done this a thousand times' mind-set. Replacing such habits and thinking with an emphasis on alertness, planning, hazard identification, problem solving and accident prevention will equip a confident workforce with the skills necessary to mitigate incidents.