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3 Ways to Make Your Safety Stand-Down More Powerful

May 9, 2018

safety stand-down

Fatalities caused by falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of death for construction employees, accounting for 370 of the 991 construction fatalities recorded in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workplace injuries and deaths are preventable. In honor of OSHA's National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in the construction industry this week, we'd like to support these efforts by suggesting three ways to reinforce your stand-down efforts. By understanding your psychological characteristics and tendencies, you are more easily able to maintain a safe workplace and make the most out of this campaign.

A big component of Caution, the fourth factor in the S.A.F.E. Model of Personal Safety, is risk-taking, which is critical to fall prevention. Many falls can be partly attributed to workers simply being overly comfortable with the risks of working at heights, despite knowing fall prevention policies and being trained on proper fall arrest equipment.

Risk-taking can vary substantially across individuals. For example, our studies show that about 15% of individuals can be described as high risk takers when it comes to safety, another 25% are fairly active risk-avoiders, and the remaining 60% commonly take some type of safety risks depending on the situation at hand. Unfortunately, in construction, taking a risk when working at heights can result in death.

So, how will your employees respond to your Safety Stand-Down message?

While about 25% of your employees will probably take the message to heart, what about the 60% who say, “It depends on the situation” and the 15% who would usually say, “I will still take the risk anyway”? How can you truly impact these individuals? Here are a few suggestions to support your fall prevention efforts by promoting the behaviors of exhibiting caution:

1. Understand your employees' safety personalities.

What are your team members' SafetyDNA®? Do some exhibit more risk-taking behaviors than others? Get their input on fall hazards and ask them how they plan to avoid specific fall hazards. Rather than confronting them about following rules, create a dialogue with them and ask them open-ended questions to get their true perspective. This can give you a good indication of what they consider to be safe when working at heights. It may even reveal some unidentified exposures or procedural issues that should be addressed.

Related: Reducing Serious Injuries and Fatalities: Identifying Those Most at Risk

2. Consult your risk-averse people about potential fall hazards.

What potential situations will put your team most at risk for falls? Who better to ask than someone who is high on Exhibiting Caution? These individuals naturally look for ways in which they could get hurt because risks make them uncomfortable. They have likely already noticed some ways in which someone could fall and have some ideas for mitigating the risk. Identify team members with this SafetyDNA and ask them to join you on a walk around of your site. Ask them about hazards you may not have identified, or new jobs/sites that could involve new fall hazards.

3. Address any gray areas where fall prevention rules or policies may be unclear or open to interpretation. 

Considering about 60% of individuals display moderate levels of the Exhibiting Caution factor, these individuals are often the biggest concern because their risk-taking is not extreme or obvious and often depends on the situation. They are most likely to put themselves at risk when there is uncertainty about when or how a safety policy applies or when they are in non-routine work/task situations where there are no clear safety policies that exist. At these times, they will rely on their own risk perception, which means they simply may not see much danger in an unguarded roof opening or improperly constructed scaffolding. Provide some specific examples of these gray area hazards and make sure that they understand how to identify them and what the correct safe behavior would be in these areas that may be unclear to them.

Related: Measuring Safety Risk in the Hiring Process: Research and Best Practices

As you execute your vision during the National Safety Stand-Down this week, try employing these simple techniques to get to the root of people’s unique SafetyDNA and foster personal ownership and collaboration in your efforts to prevent falls and contribute to your overall commitment to safety. 

safety training and development

Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. is the Director of Safety Solutions at PSI. He manages the development and implementation of all safety solutions and services, which address some of the critical challenges faced by organizations today in workplace safety.