Last week we introduced the Exhibits Caution factor in the S.A.F.E. model of SafetyDNATM and presented risk reduction techniques for being more careful around the workplace. I want to expand on this today by discussing the reasons why employees experience this blind spot.
As we know, some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, so displaying strong safety performance behaviors is particularly important for individuals who work in hazardous job sites. However, the job itself does not necessarily dictate the probability that an employee will experience an accident or injury. In fact, many employees who work under hazardous conditions have outstanding personal safety records because an accident at their sites can have grave consequences, so they are highly motivated to follow safety guidelines and be cautious for the well-being of themselves and their coworkers.
Conversely, although environments such as office spaces present less serious dangers to employees, injuries can absolutely occur if they are not cautious. For example, I have a friend who was running through her office to be on time for a meeting, when she suddenly tripped and twisted her ankle. Had she simply slowed down a little at the risk of walking into her meeting 30 seconds late, she would not have had to deal with the pain, a boot cast, and the related inconveniences for effectively performing her job.
Employee behaviors are just as important as job hazards to personal safety. No matter what the working conditions, individuals display a spectrum of low- to high-risk safety behaviors that can greatly impact their chances of being hurt at work. Just days ago, a 31-year-old laborer for a soil company in Ohio died from overexposure to hydrogen sulfide gas while loading fertilizer into a trailer. OSHA determined that the employee was not wearing his appropriate respiratory PPE at the time. If we are operating under the assumption that this employee was provided adequate safety training and the correct PPE, what then would lead him to work with this unnecessary risk?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at some of the common high exposure situations where employees are prone to exhibit low-caution safety behaviors:
Deadlines/quotas/goals: Business demands can be taxing on employees who are overloaded with tasks to meet the company’s expectations, but rushing or taking shortcuts to get the job done on time cannot come at the expense of personal safety. Express concerns to management about the competing drives to work faster and stay safe to find a solution that prioritizes safety first.
Impatience: Opposite of deadlines, the restlessness that can arise when work productivity is slow can lead employees to engage in risky behaviors such as skipping critical steps in a task, which needlessly increases hazards.
Making quick decisions: Many jobs require employees to think on their feet and make snap judgments, but this can cause some individuals to act impulsively. Taking a moment to think through one’s actions before doing them can stop a rash behavior that can increase risk exposure.
Boredom: Some jobs have considerable downtime or may seem dull to some people, who may be driven to do something that will stir up some excitement. Although seeking to liven up the work environment is not risky by definition, employees should be careful to avoid behaviors that add any unnecessary risk to the work environment.
Adrenaline: Related to boredom, some employees simply crave the rush that comes with reckless behavior and often perform job tasks with this mindset. While being comfortable in dangerous situations is a requirement of some jobs, there are still safe and unsafe ways of doing everything.
As I often say in my blog posts, I cannot overemphasize that these accidents, injuries, and deaths are avoidable. Every employee, no matter how intrinsically dangerous their job, is responsible for exhibiting low-risk safety behaviors that will minimize the potential threats in their workspaces. Some employees feed off of the excitement in dangerous activities, and we are not seeking to change that about who they are, rather we want to be sure that they are channeling this energy in appropriate and safe ways.