Do workers think your safety program is realistic?

by on December 9, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Do your workers think your company puts the right amount of emphasis on safety?

One way to find out: Look for these five signs that workers think you’re reasonable in your safety expectations – neither demanding unrealistic levels of compliance, nor sending the message that safety can slide.

1. You get plenty of feedback
Are you getting feedback from workers about near-misses, safety hazards and the like?

Cautionary example: One machine operator was getting frequent, minor burns on his hands each shift. He didn’t report the burns to his supervisor because he was afraid of the consequences. Clearly, his company didn’t send the message that safety was important. In the injured worker’s mind, the company only cared about productivity.

If lack of feedback seems to be a problem, consider some intelligence-gathering:

  • Have supervisors observe and solicit feedback in a non-confrontational way.
  • Break deadly silences in safety meetings by pre-prepping one worker with a question that gets the talk rolling.
  • Build trusted sources among line employees (off-hours activities are good for this) to get “candid” opinions.
  • Have anonymous reporting options, such as in-boxes, e-mail and phone lines. Better they call you than OSHA.

Follow-up is key. If workers don’t see action, they’ll soon clam up again.

2. The paperwork is reasonable
We know one company where replacing a door knob required a half hour of job-hazard analysis, followed by about 10 minutes of work. That’s not reasonable. Workers will resent it – especially if the task is not too risky – and likely skip the safety step.

Better: Quick safety checklists for simple tasks. To spot situation-specific hazards, include yes/no questions, such as, “Are there industrial trucks nearby?”

Of course serious tasks require job hazard analysis. But try to keep the paperwork realistic.

3. Workers can make decisions
If workers think your procedures lack common sense, they will do end runs.

Workers at one company reported, “We don’t do some jobs when the safety director’s around.” Another group looked at the company’s safety plan and said, “We spend a lot of time trying to work around that.”
If there are widespread compliance problems, supervisors should know to ask: Is the problem the workers’ behavior or the procedures themselves?

When possible, let supervisors and workers choose among safety options. Example: One company’s workers found scaffolding guardrails got in the way of their work. An OSHA inspector found the rails stacked next to the scaffolding. The supervisor had no explanation. Better: Workers could choose using safety harnesses if guardrails are in the way.

4. People don’t run yellow lights
What if the only way to get to work on time is to run a yellow light every morning? You’re tempted to run it. Some workers face that kind of start-and-stop traffic all day long. And it impairs judgment.

Key: Give workers enough time to do the job properly, and remove as many obstacles to compliance as possible.

Example: Confined-space work may require (1) a job-hazard analysis (2) atmospheric testing (3) calling local emergency responders to put them on notice, and (4) a company-issued confined-space permit. Getting all that done can take time, but it gets worse if workers are repeatedly blocked, e.g., the atmospheric tester isn’t back where it belongs, workers can’t find the phone number for the local emergency responders, etc. If a step keeps delaying them, they may skip it.

5. You have more interventions than initiatives
Can workers assess risks on their own? If not, you may be tempted to come up with a safety initiative. But too many safety initiatives can frustrate workers. One company had created 14 separate action-tracking systems over many years – probably 13 too many.

Ideally, supervisors should intervene daily to help workers understand risks, step in when workers ignore risks and remove obstacles where necessary

Source: Zara Hart, senior consultant, Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention, Perth, Australia.

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