Much has been written about on-the-job safety, but it is usually targeted to technical advice about a particular situation, such as wearing a hard hat on construction sites. A much better approach is to target the way we think about all situations so that safety becomes second-nature. To do this, it is helpful to categorize accidents as to root cause. Meticulous records must be kept of every accident and near miss experienced by your employees. Your occupational health and safety logs that you turn into the state should be very helpful in cataloging your historical data. Once you have listed all of the accidents, it is instructional to look at all of the factors that may have contributed to the injury. Such factors may include:
o Time of Day
o Day of the week
o Personal life issues (recent divorce or childbirth, impending vacation, bankruptcy, child leaving home, etc)
o Location where the accident took place
o Experience of worker
o Age of worker
o Supervision on-site or off-site
o Personal protective equipment use
o Working alone or with a group
o Adequacy of clothing / shoes for protection
You may be able to identify certain trends right off the bat, such as tending to have more accidents on Fridays when workers may be thinking about the weekend, or on Mondays when workers may be tired from the weekend. If you have outdoor workers, you may have more accidents in wet weather than dry. You may have a particular intersection that is dangerous for drivers and that can be avoided by planning alternate routes. We can’t discriminate against older workers, but if a job requires fast reflexes or extreme physical strength, we may need to identify at what age it becomes prudent to talk about doing some testing to see if they are still up to the task, since everyone ages at his/her own pace.
Most accidents will end up being grouped into four broad categories:
o Not looking at what we are doing.
o Not thinking about what we are doing.
o Putting ourselves in harm’s way.
o Losing our balance or hold on something.
In turn, there are four broad categories of contributing factors:
o Feeling that we are so good at our jobs or have done the task so many times that there is no risk of getting hurt.
o Feeling tired.
o Getting frustrated due to personal or professional issues.
o Hurrying to get the job finished.
Because these categories are so broad and so easy to understand, it is easy to review them daily or weekly in a safety huddle prior to each shift. After awhile, employees begin to think about accidents in a whole new way and become capable of avoiding a lot of injuries because they catch themselves falling into one of contributing categories BEFORE they actually get to the point of injuring themselves. At my company, we review accidents at every safety meeting, using this approach to figure out what could have been done to prevent the injury. Many of the employees now include the contributing causes when they write up their accident reports because they are so familiar with them.
What I find the most helpful about this method is that it can be applied to virtually any job in any industry and even at home. How can an employee who got injured off-the-job contribute to your productivity?
Another thing I have found most helpful is to review with employees the impact that injuries have, both on the company and on the employee’s family. One thing we have used was a drawing of an employee, mapping out all of the injuries our business group had experienced that year. The poor figure in the drawing was covered in bandages. Even though a specific employee may have had only a minor cut or bruise and felt he was not impacting the company, when they saw so graphically the overall effect of the cumulative injuries on our group, it was an eye-opener.
We also have had people who have experienced injuries or near misses videotape a spot with their spouses telling about what did or could have happened at home as a result of the injury. Even if employees don’t buy into having an individual impact on the profitability of your company, most employees understand that they are working to take care of their families. Many employees don’t think about the life-altering changes their spouses and kids may have to go through as a result of their injuries. Think about the last time someone in your home was ill. Do you remember how everyone’s schedule had to be adjusted to take up the slack or to tend to the ill person? Imagine if that was an injury with a long recovery period or was a fatal accident. What would your family have to deal with?
I have found that injury rates decrease dramatically when employees review accidents and near misses frequently with an eye toward prevention, when reminders are repeatedly given as to the root causes and contributing factors for accidents, and when consideration is given to the impact of accidents on the company and on the employee’s family. This three-pronged approach may be just the jump-start your company needs to keep employees safe and productive.