4 conditions that tip you off that someone will get injured

by on June 28, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Injuries. Illnesses. Workers comp costs. These show the bottom-line effectiveness of your safety program.

But they have one big problem: They are lagging indicators, according to University of California-Davis’ safety professionals. They only tell you what’s already happened. Any corrections will be biased by hindsight: You’ll learn what you (and the workers) should have done.

So when UC-Davis trains supervisors in safety leadership, they help bosses spot leading indicators. Here are four of them:

1. A ‘no injury=no accident’ mentality
You know that all safety problems do not end in tears. They’re often numerous near-misses – a hand pulled out of a machine in time, or a hose that’s a trip hazard that people walk over all day. Both will eventually lead to an injury.

Do your supervisors have a “no news is good news” policy? If so, that’s a leading indicator. Find out with some discussions with supervisors during safety meetings and walkarounds, by asking:

  • What behaviors have you seen in the past day that indicate workers are watching out for each other?
    Good answers: “I saw a worker correct a colleague about blocking a fire exit.” “Joe reported a damaged machine guard.”
    Danger sign: No answer or an answer from more than a few days earlier.Key: Supervisors should see something every day – usually something small that shows people are naturally including safety in their work calculations.
  • What has happened that could have resulted in an injury, but didn’t?
    Examples: A worker suffers a minor shock. A pedestrian who stops in time when an industrial truck driver obviously didn’t see him. Someone trips over debris, but doesn’t fall. Or if the person falls, doesn’t get hurt.Key: It’s easy to discount events such as these when there are no consequences. But these types of behaviors show where individual crews need to improve.

2. Persistent unsafe conditions, especially temporary ones
Unaddressed hazardous conditions are the bane of any supervisor responsible for safety. Rarely can a supervisor get all the resources he needs to meet every work order. But what he can do is make sure there are no unnecessarily hazardous conditions.

It may be that a supervisor has to wait to get a machine guard repaired, but no one needs a work order to recognize temporary wiring has become permanent or that a box is sitting in a blind spot.

Every supervisor can distinguish between the two categories – those requiring resources and those requiring safer behaviors.
Action steps: Have each supervisor prepare a list of hazardous conditions or faulty equipment requiring repairs, either waiting for resources or for maintenance to complete a work order.

Involve workers in putting together the list. And make sure supervisors communicate about hazardous conditions that will take time to fix, the timeframe involved, and what to do in the meantime. That way the whole crew will be on alert.

The UC-Davis EH&S department recommends regular housekeeping audits, tool and PPE condition inspections, observations and follow up training can eliminate unnecessary hazards. Again, workers can help put these together. In turn, that will increase their awareness of creating temporary hazards.

3. Weak documentation
UC-Davis checks if supervisors are complying with existing injury-prevention measures: One way to check is the paperwork. Of course, paperwork doesn’t tell the whole story, either.

But reviews of the following can show commitment to prevention:

  • supervisor’s inspection notes
  • comments on safety audits
  • incident review details (especially those not involving an injury)
  • follow up steps taken, and
  • Job-Hazard Analyses (JHAs) completed.

Key: Following up on paperwork – asking questions or offering suggestions – adds accountability. What you follow up on is what supervisor’s pay attention to.

4. Not considering worker’s physical condition
Physical conditioning is a good leading indicator of injuries. UC-Davis urges supervisors to do functional testing on employees who might be more susceptible to injuries.

These include older workers, those not in good physical condition, and those with previous injuries.

Action step: Focus supervisors on pre-shift stretching to avoid strains and sprains, physical conditioning, and monitor supervisors’ frequency of back safety training to head off costly back injuries.

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