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3 Tips for Staying in Control of Your Safety

March 5, 2014

As we’ve discussed during the past few weeks, Staying in Control is a key factor when it comes to personal safety. Believing that your actions can help keep you safe, and controlling your emotions during stressful situations, can be the difference between coming home safely and becoming a safety statistic.

But what do you do if your SafetyDNA® makes it hard for you to stay in control? What if you are known for having a temper or, what if you feel like things in your life is outside of your control? Well, luckily there are some easy and simple things you can do to reduce your personal risk in this area, regardless of your personal levels of Control. Here are a few:

1. Don’t let others dictate your risk level. Regardless of how much training and how many policies your employer has in place, at the end of the day – you are the last line of defense. You can make a conscious decision each and every day to work safely. But in the real world, we all face pressure, deadlines, and distractions that can make this very difficult. I remember talking with a guy who worked for a well services contractor company in the fracking industry who told me once that he was working on a water tank about 12 ft high that was just a few feet away from an another tank of a similar height. He was about to climb down using the steps and then climb onto the other tank, when a supervisor from the client site came over and yelled, “Hey! Just jump over onto the other tank – you don’t have to climb down the steps! That’ll take forever!” The employee knew his own employer (the contractor) had a policy that required him to always use steps to climb down tanks, but in his desire to please the client, he decided to take the supervisor’s advice and jump from the top of the tank to the other. This was a very poor decision. When he jumped, he didn’t quite jump far enough, and as a result he fell 12 feet and broke his ankle. What would cause someone to break the rules like this and use such poor judgment? He let someone else influence him and at that moment he put his safety into someone else’s hands. There will always be people like this supervisor, telling us how to do something faster and more easily by taking shortcuts. But we must be able to stay in control of our own safety and decide for ourselves what level of risk is truly acceptable.

2. Take control of your personal protective equipment (PPE). Nowadays, we have great state-of-the art PPE for every type of job, and we see more and more training services on how to use this equipment properly. But here’s the catch – it only keeps us safe if we actually use it and wear it properly! If I had a nickel for every time I a supervisor or a safety professional complained to me about employees not wearing their PPE, or using it incorrectly despite being aware of the risks, I would be a rich man. Too many times, our people know what the required PPE is, where to find it, and how to wear it, yet they don’t use it when it counts the most – when they are working and exposed to risks. For example, here are some interesting statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Fact Sheet No. OSHA 92-08). They reported that:

  • Hard hats were worn by only 16% of those workers who sustained head injuries, although two-fifths were required to wear them for certain tasks at specific locations.

  • Only 1% of approximately 770 workers suffering face injuries were wearing face protection.

  • Only 23% of the workers with foot injuries wore safety shoes or boots.

  • About 40% of the workers with eye injuries wore eye protective equipment.

This is where you have to take control and ownership of your protection. Ask yourself – are you wearing ALL of the required PPE? Is there something that you could wear beyond just the minimal requirements (e.g., hearing protection, cut-resistant gloves, face shields)? Ask around, talk to your company’s safety manager, and find out the facts. In addition, it never hurts to double check on whether you are using it properly. A large proportion of injuries often occur simply because the employee was unaware that they were wearing it incorrectly. The same goes for inspecting it for wear and tear – find out what to look for, and how to check it. By being proactive in how you approach your PPE knowledge and usage, rather than waiting for your supervisor to remind you, you will be staying in control of your personal safety.

3. Don’t let stress hijack your safety. Research shows that when we are under stress for prolonged periods of time, it can affect us physiologically in many ways, but it can also hurt our brains by making it hard for us to learn new information and retain memories (to learn more, click here). If we are trying to learn and apply new safe work practices, or work in a safer manner on the job, it’s easy to see how stress can make this very challenging for us. And that’s not the worst part – as you probably already know – stress can impact our decision making in ways that put us at higher risk of injury, by leading us to remember the ‘rewarding’ aspects of a particular decision, and forgetting the negative or ‘punishing’ aspects (to learn more, click here). In a safety context, this is a bad combination. If you’re a construction worker under heavy stress one day, then you begin a new task and you realize your PPE (e.g., safety harness) is not working 100% properly, you may be tempted to go about your task and work with the PPE as it is, especially if this is going to save you a lot of time. Therefore it’s critical to control and reduce stress on the job. So how can you reduce stress? There are many ways, but here are a few simple ones that are commonly used:

  • Breathe better – research shows that breathing can have a huge impact on our overall health, as well as reducing our stress levels. Make it a habit to breathe slower and deeper, especially focusing on breathing more into your abdomen than your chest, which has less capacity. This will provide your body with much needed oxygen and will help give you a quick reduction in the anxiety levels you are feeling.

  • Move around – our “fight or flight” response kicks in under any sort of stress; the only problem is that most of the time in our workdays we cannot do either one in response! Yet our bodies have built up adrenaline at that moment. Taking a minute or two to simply move around and do a quick exercise will help your body work through some of that adrenaline, which will then help reduce stress.

  • Take five – we often use this technique before we begin working on a task or a job with potential safety risks and hazards. But it’s a great technique if you are feeling stressed as well. Take a few minutes to just think, reflect, and see what your options are for handling the situation, and what your potential resources are.

  • Talk about it – talking to someone – a trusted friend or co-worker – can significantly improve our outlook on any situation. If possible, take time to talk things over with someone and let them know what’s going on and what your concerns are. The act of discussing it itself can reduce stress, and often, they can help you identify constructive and helpful ways to help deal with it or overcome the issue.

By implementing the three tips outlined here, anyone can improve their ability to stay in control of the situation, as well as their personal safety – even those of us whose SafetyDNA makes it a little harder to do this when things are crazy and the pressure is on. And ultimately, if we can stay in control, we can stay safer and keep those around us safer as well.

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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.