I’m going to level with you today: There’s a lot, and a mean a metric ton, of misinformation when it comes to safety in the workplace. The more experience you have, the more and more you discover which of the things you’ve been told actually seem to hold up to the action of a real workplace, and which advice becomes clearly idealistic and less useable.
That said, why can’t we just skip past the clutter? Why do myths about the nature of safety and accident prevention continue to circulate when experienced practitioners know them to be complete bologna? To be honest, I can’t answer that, but hopefully what I can do is more useful; in this article, we’re going to go over some common workplace safety myths and dissect them so that, with a whole lot of luck, they won’t leave anyone’s lips ever again.
First of all, yes, accidents do happen… but the statement itself is dismissive, and suggests that some things are just out of our control. The problem with this sentiment is twofold. First of all, it’s a slippery slope: If you decide one thing is out of your control, it’s easier to accept that another thing might be as well. Before you know it, you’re leaving too much up to chance and not enough up to your problem solving skills.
The second problem is that the idea that accidents just “happen” of their own accord is silly and untrue. There is always something you can do, and you should always be actively improving your safety by finding these things as they come along.
One counter example to this that people sometimes come up with is a case in which an employee does something really boneheaded and gets themselves into a dangerous situation. “Isn’t that kind of out of my control?” one might ask. Actually, there are two possible situations here:
1. The worker deliberately put themselves in harm’s way for some unknown reason. In this case, a resulting injury is hardly an “accident.” That said, being observant of employee behavior, checking in to see how they’re doing, and trying to actively keep in mind that workers are people with full lives and emotions outside of their jobs can help you to see trouble coming.
2. The second, and more likely, scenario is that the accident occurred because of a lack of training. In these cases, there is definitely something you could have done. If training has been administered, then maybe employee oversight is lacking, or the control mechanisms to make sure that newly taught techniques or safety policies become habit aren’t quite there. In any case, thinking that “accidents happen” and that if you go on long enough they’re just going to naturally occur is not a proactive nor helpful outlook for the safety in your business.
This point was brought up by Marius du Plessis, a contributor on LinkedIn who started a discussion on safety myths. He didn’t elaborate, but included “remedial action to prevent recurrence – discipline the employee” in a list of items he deemed safety mistakes. Thank you, Marius! I can’t stress this point enough.
If your main method of encouraging compliance is through the threat of discipline, you’re going to run into problems. The best way to improve compliance is through meetings and training that relate the need for safety equipment to each employee on a personal level. If you just shove some gear at someone and say “wear this” but can’t explain why it’s important to them, you’re asking for a questioning of your leadership; if someone is going to look up to you as the boss, they want you to have a clear idea of why you do or require the things you do.
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The other problem with a workplace culture of discipline is that it encourages false or misreporting. Accidents rarely happen in a single-factor vacuum. For example, if an employee suffers an eye injury from flying debris while using a saw and not wearing the proper eye protection, he/she may not bring it to the attention of his/her employer or managers for fear of being reprimanded. However, this could mean a deeper problem (like the saw not being properly guarded in the first place) goes ignored because no one ever thought to check it, because no one knew an injury occurred in the first place.
Covering Every Base Is Too Expensive & Time Consuming
Safety can seem like a major barrier to progress; if you’re hiring someone to evaluate and implement safety policies, it can be expensive, and if you’re taking a do it yourself approach, the time spent learning can be extremely long.
However, costs are not isolated, they have associated benefits that must be weighed against them. The simple truth of a cost/benefit analysis of safety proofing your workplace is that one injury claim where you’re at fault can easily outweigh all of the time and money put into safety in the first place. The truth is that yes, covering all of your bases can be tedious, but that’s part of the job if you’re looking to run your own operation, and it’s a responsibility you owe to your workers as people anyways.
PPE Is The First Line Of Defense!
I pulled this point from an interesting article that was mostly focused on gloves and their use as PPE in the workplace, but I think it’s applicable to many different kinds of activities and PPE. PPE, contrary to popular belief, should be your last line of defense against an accident/injury. This doesn’t mean you provide them last – your workers should always be wearing the proper equipment – but it does mean that you shouldn’t be leaning on them too heavily. Policies, machine/process adjustments, and training should all help to prevent even needing PPE in the first place. PPE is just there for when all else goes wrong, or the unexpected (a machine breaks and throws a part out, etc.). Even in these cases, there’s almost always something to be done to prevent PPE from being reached in the first place (more frequent machine maintenance, for example).
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but they’re a few of my safety myth pet peeves? Which safety sentiments don’t quite sit right with you? Let us know below, who knows who else you could be helping.