How safe & skilled staff justify cutting corners

by on September 20, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Every safety director wants to improve safety consciousness – get people to act safely because they want to, not because they have to.

Yet, even the safest and most skilled workers will sometimes cut corners – relying on justifications that sound good in their heads, but reveal themselves as obviously false after an accident.

Here are four cases in point that you can use to start a realistic safety discussion about corner-cutting with your workers:

    1. ‘I’ve got the skills to do this’

Sometimes workers think they’re skilled enough to handle the danger, but they’re not.

Example: An equipment operator was using a power press. The operator wasn’t sure a valve that shoots out air was working.

So he figured he had the skill to reach into the machine and put a little piece of paper over the valve to see if it would make the paper move, and get his hand back out before the machine cycled. He was wrong. His fingers got stamped in the mold.

Worse, a co-worker saw the incident and hit the e-stop. The machine shut down with the worker’s fingers still caught. They had to go through the machine’s two-minute startup sequence before they could get his hand out.

Suggestion: Have supervisors look out for shortcuts such as this one. The worker clearly had a plan (use a paper to test the valve) and it’s doubtful this was the first time.

If workers get in the habit of shortcuts such as this, look for ways to allow them to conduct tests without putting body parts in harm’s way.

    1. ‘It’s more dangerous to follow the rule’

Sometimes workers cut their thinking short. They recognize their safety equipment may create a new hazard – a good thing. But then they grab a quick solution, such as removing the PPE, instead of finding a real solution.

Example: An elevator maintenance company in Florida sent a worker to paint the exterior roofs of two elevators.

There was a 30-foot drop off the back of the elevator – but the worker didn’t use fall protection, thinking the lanyard risked getting entangled in the elevator lift assemblies, a greater hazard than falling.

The worker later slipped off the elevator and down the shaft to to his death. OSHA fined the company and the company challenged it.

The OSHA Review Commission rejected the “greater hazard” theory, saying the elevators could have been locked out so the worker’s lanyard wouldn’t risk getting tangled in the elevator’s assemblies if the elevator started to move.

Suggestion: If workers face a tough safety challenge, they need to think the problem all the way through. The best way is for them to get help.

It’s not enough to say, “The harness is unsafe, so I won’t use it.” They need to continue thinking, “Since I can’t use a harness, how can I find a safe way to use it or, how do I avoid the fall hazard by other means?”

    1. ‘I know what I’m doing – I don’t need a rule’

Skilled workers may decide to over-ride safety procedures, figuring it’s enough to recognize the hazard and avoid it.

Example: A senior worker at one plant was assigned the task of creating the company’s general lockout policy as well as the specific lockout procedures throughout the facility.

He completed the tasks and his bosses praised him for the effort. So how, a year later, did he end up missing a week of work after suffering third-degree electrical burns on his hand?

He opened an electrical panel, and didn’t lock it out because he knew the danger and figured he’d just keep his hand away from the live circuit.

But his hand slipped and bumped into the live wires. Result: Fried skin. Afterward, he said he was lucky he didn’t get killed.

Suggestion: Conduct a “Murphy’s Law” brainstorming session during training. Ask workers to guess what could go wrong, if it could, and how the existing safety procedures protect them.

Have the participants share their results with each other. When even veteran employees realize that someone else thought of something that could go wrong, they’ll realize they can’t anticipate all dangers.

    1. ‘We usually have more margin for error’

In Middletown, OH, a veteran, skilled worker was repairing a pipe while standing on a lift.

He didn’t lock the lift in place, so when he accidentally leaned back to get a better look at the pipe, he hit the controls to raise the lift. But he had no margin for error and was immediately crushed to death between pipe and lift.

Suggestion: Train workers to recognize situations where the margin for error is smaller than usual – such as working in tight spaces.

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