An important element to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment is making a conscious decision to work safely every day. That sounds simple but we’re all guilty of violating that basic principle at least once.
Evidence of this is abundant and easy to spot. Look at the examples in the photos on the right. Both were taken on a typical day while I was out trying to do anything except look for safety hazards. In both instances the offenders knew they were violating the rules. In one case, the person immediately corrected his actions, but the other person went back to violating the rule.
The question that we all struggle with is why? Often it is done in the name of getting the job done. Other times people weren’t thinking or just got caught up in the work and forgot to take proper precautions. Many people will also use the all-too-often cited, “I’ve been doing it this way for 15 years” justification. Others will say, “it’s none of your business, it’s my choice.” But when I investigate an injury or fatality, these reasons are hollow.
The solution is implementing an active safety and health management system. Adopting a safety plan isn’t enough; it’s one element in successfully managing safety and health. The goal must be to manage safety, quality, and productivity equally. Failing to manage one area impacts the others.
Besides the rules contained in the safety plan, we must also provide training and must instill a sense of importance and reinforce from the top down that safety is important. This starts with the company owner and must continue through to every employee. There is nothing more damaging to a safety and health management system than for a worker to see the owner of the company walk onto a jobsite without wearing the mandated hardhat and work boots.
We also must teach workers that contrary to their belief, it’s not their choice. Rules and safe work procedures also protect their co-workers, others on the project, the company, and the public. People simply walking by the project are sometimes injured or killed. Anyone who has witnessed an accident resulting in a serious injury or fatality will tell you that it impacts them tremendously. Worksites that experience serious injuries or fatalities are never quite the same. Besides the emotional impact, the company can experience continued consequences. From lawsuits, to loss of customers, to increased insurance premiums, these incidents often alter the course of a company’s progress, and never in a good way.
A successful system starts with the safety plan, but it continues with training, ongoing planning and task analysis, and instilling an attitude that encourages people to choose to work safely.
Jim Rogers is a safety consultant based in Phoenix and former head of the OSHA training center at Arizona State University.