Why Workers Take Safety Risks

by on June 9, 2015 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Maintenance workers, almost by definition, have to occasionally work with equipment that’s moving. A recent example from a brake-repair shop will show the safety point: A mechanic heard a bumping sound and so turned the wheels. He wondered if the problem was the brakes, or something else. With the vehicle elevated, as another employee worked inside the vehicle pressing the gas, he slipedp under the vehicle (positioned under the moving wheel) and poked his hands around. The wheel was moving slowly enough for him to use his fingernail to test if the rotor was true. The rotors looked warped, he said.

Further investigation proved he was correct, but the safety problem was fairly obvious: He didn’t leave himself an out. He was counting on his skill level to avoid moving wheels, and that his fingers wouldn’t get caught in the brakes. He was also counting that the hydraulic lift wouldn’t fail, or that another worker wouldn’t lower the lift, or that someone wouldn’t bump into him.

And there were actually good reasons for him to discount those risks: They are all rare events. People get away with safety violations – or they count on their skills to avoid trouble – all the time. It works. That’s why people do it.

Still, it was an unreasonable risk to take. And when it comes to safety training, the challenge for supervisors is to make sure workers are taking reasonable risks, and not unreasonable ones. People know to pay attention and stand clear when risks are taken. They lock out when necessary and remain aware of others’ position. They always check before they press any kind of button or switch to release energy. No loose clothing or hair that can get tangled. Focusing on skills and quality work practices goes a long way to building a culture of safety.

In this case, while the safety practices were a bit sloppy, the unreasonable part was the fingernail to test how true a rotor is. That’s a habitual practice and a good safety supervisor would need to confront and address that habit. We know some people like to work by feel, but there is a right tool for the job, too. The supervisor needs to insist, and follow up and keep following up until the new habit is ingrained.

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