It's Not Who You Know,
It's What You Know
By Carl Potter and Deb Potter
companies look at safety in terms of outcomes: their employees are
either injury-free or injury-prone; their workplace has a greater or
lesser number of incidents this year than last. Do you believe your
workers’ actions or behaviors determine their safety? Does your
company determine its safety level with a formula based on the number
of personal workplace injuries or vehicular incidents your drivers had
useful in some circumstances, these types of measurements are often
referred to as “lagging indicators.”
They reflect what has happened and in what quantities, but they
really don’t tell the whole story of safety in your organization.
another, often better, way to measure and improve workplace safety.
Consider how much you and your employees know about the way everyone
works. This knowledge can help everyone to work safer and to go home
every day without injury.
time your employees sustain an injury or have vehicle incidents, even
when they only experience near-misses, take the time to think about
what the event reveals about the level of safety knowledge in your
organization. You may be shocked at what you learn when you ask
yourself and others involved in the incident these three questions:
What are the
work procedures related to the task you were doing at the time of the
incident? For example, if a worker was injured while using a
hand tool, he or she may describe what they thought
was the proper procedure for using the tool, when in fact no one may
have trained him or her to use the piece of equipment properly.
In this case, you may learn that employees need training in the
appropriate use of certain tools in order to avoid future incidents.
How did you
learn to do the task you were doing when the incident occurred?
investigations often reveal that workers primarily learn to do their
work from their peers through on-the-job training.
In many industries, advances have been made over the years in
technology and equipment, yet more seasoned workers may not be aware
of these improvements. Sometimes
these experienced, yet unaware, employees inadvertently pass along
unsafe work practices to others who join their workgroup.
As a result, new workers are continually trained in older, and
probably less safe, work methods.
If training and safety knowledge aren’t updated, dangerous
situations can easily result.
What can we all
learn from this so that no one else experiences a similar incident?
people genuinely want to help their co-workers to go home every day
without injury, so you will probably get good ideas and valuable
information when you ask this question. Share what you learn from
these interviews throughout your organization, especially with those
who may face comparable circumstances, so everyone can avoid injury if
a similar situation arises. You’ll discover that, in many cases,
good safety rules exist, and employees understand safe work
procedures, but they feel they must rush their work, so they take
shortcuts that lead to injuries. When the employees involved in
incidents or near-misses identify the underlying causes that result
from being in a hurry, they can share with their fellow employees the
lessons they’ve learned for the benefit of all.
Easy does it: Good communication is essential if the safety process
is to be successful. Workers need to feel as if they are involved in a
process and making a contribution to the overall benefit of their
co-workers and the company, not as if they are snitches or will risk
punishment for divulging what really happened when the incident
occurred. Ask these three questions in such a way that the involved
workers feel comfortable about sharing information with you.
If they feel as if what they offer you will be used against
them in any way, forget it! They
will be unwilling to speak honestly–or possibly at
all–so you will lose the opportunity to learn. On the flip side,
if employees trust you and believe that your questions are truly
designed to uncover ways to make the workplace safer for everyone,
then you will tap into a gold mine of good information.
Then it is vital to pass this information on to others
throughout the company in a meaningful way.
Knowledge is power! When it comes to safety, it really doesn’t
matter who you know, it’s what
you know. By asking these
questions, you will gain knowledge that will allow you to provide your
employees with an invaluable resource gleaned from the lessons learned
by others. Share the
information in safety meetings, employee discussions, and pre-job
briefings. Be sure to assimilate it into appropriate employee training
courses. When you do everything you can to ensure that employees know
what they need to know in order to do their jobs safely and
effectively, you’ll find that more and more injury-free workers will
go home to their families every day.
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and Deb Potter.
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