Safety instructors, supervisors, managers, and whatever other titles might befall the profession, have a lot to worry about. Traditionally, our profession is a numbers game, and though the measures of success and best practices change with each decade, the main goal of what most of us do each day is to protect and save as many lives and limbs as possible. In a country whose workforce is in the hundreds of millions, however, the United States sees a lot of diversification in safety strategies and tools used in various sectors (and even within businesses within the same industry).
It should come as no surprise, then, that discussions, blogs posts, and industry publications pop up all the time with suggestions as to the best way to keep a workforce safe. Recently, Tom Chen, a contributor from China, wrote to LinkedIn to ask what people saw as the best safety tools they’d ever implemented. Today, let’s go through some of the suggestions and dissect their merits a bit.
In Chen’s original post, he name drops a couple of “big things” in the safety arena: BBS and Ergonomics. BBS takes a little more in depth analysis to get to the bottom of, so let’s start out with ergonomics.
Ergonomics: Ergonomics is defined as an applied science concerned with the safety and efficiency of how people interact with their environments. Items like “ergonomic keyboards” have become commonplace in office environments, where it’s been shown that back alignment, wrist usage, and more can have serious health impacts in the long term. It’s easy to imagine, then, how important the ergonomics of more industrial activities like lifting, climbing, and operating heavy machinery.
I’m inclined to agree that ergonomics are extremely important to any workplace, and a plan to analyze the way in which workers are moving and interacting with their work environment is a good place to start. This can help you catch unsafe practices early and even help integrate mistakes that you’re seeing over and over again into revised training for new employees. Ergonomics are, however, broad, and as such don’t perhaps represent a great exact “safety strategy” to follow.
Behavior Based Safety: Behavior based safety, or BBS, is a sort of all-encompassing term for many strategies and theories that focus on achieving safety through modifying or cultivating certain behaviors among workers. These span from a wide range of incentive programs to Lean events and beyond; as such, the effectiveness of many of the methods varies as well. Let’s break down a couple individual strategies that fall within BBS.
Reward/Incentive Systems: While it may be crude to liken a safety method to dog training, the incentive based method of modifying behavior is a fairly close fit. Common iterations of this system are an office-wide reward for time periods without accidents, ’employee of the month’ type programs for outstanding safety behavior, etc.
The biggest problem with these systems, however, is that they largely miss their mark due to the fact that their goals may be at odds with actual honest reporting of what goes on each day. For example, “X days without an accident!” programs have been largely phased out because workers are encouraged not to report incidents for the sake of maintaining a record or getting something. Lack of reporting can lead to such programs actually making a workplace less safe. The problem is compounded by shared or workforce-wide rewards, as added peer pressure may keep one individual from wanting to be perceived as a problem or not as a team player.
A more acceptable alternative could simply be to offer recognition when you see extra care being taken or a project carried out safely. If you don’t put a specific timeframe or number goal on recognition of safe, helpful behavior, you leave yourself open to reward and open up dialogues when they’re most appropriate, rather than at predetermined periods in time which may or may not correspond with any significant safety goings on.
Feedback: An extension of BBS is a system in which individual feedback is the main driving force behind safety attitudes in the workplace. In such a system, meetings are schedule at regular intervals for employees to meet with their supervisors and discuss a number of things. The supervisor may have a specific agenda, or the meetings may be more free-form. Often times, employees may bring their own concerns and topics to the meeting; these can prove extremely insightful for managers, whose perspective may not afford them the same view of safety issues as those actually working “on the ground floor.”
Over time, these meetings not only help to address specifically observed issues, but they also establish healthy dialogue and (hopefully) a good working relationship between employees and their supervisors. This can help more impromptu interactions come across more positively in the long run.
But wait, there’s more!
Of course, along with the more traditional answers there were some interesting emergence, and some ideas even involved recent technology. Use Mark Taylor suggested that using GoPros can help get employee perspective in a non-intrusive way and help safety managers pick out places for improvement.
If you haven’t heard of these gadgets, GoPros are basically cameras made to secure mount to helmets, bikes, motorcycles, parachute harnesses, really just about anything! On Youtube, they’re primarily used to share extreme adventures with the world from breathtaking perspectives. In the workplace, their usage can be even more important in playing life-saving and safety roles. Video collected directly from workers can be used in training workshops, adding real life perspective to your sessions (instead of overly-dramatized cheesy looking videos that people might just tune out). Being able to actually say, “Hey, that’s actually where I work every day, that’s actually something I see all the time!” helps people engage more and internalize what they’re seeing and, more importantly, being told.
Poster Sarah Mansfield made the suggestion that, more important than any individual strategy might be developing your framework for safety, provided that it covers a number of key functions. Here are a few things you might want to look out for in a safety system:
1. The first is that you have a way to quantify, or at least observe, what your current situation is. With regards to safety, this means benchmarking where things are at, how often incidents and close calls occur, where their main causes seem to lie, etc. This ensures that you’re never ‘flying blind’ and making assumptions, which could then lead to the actions being taken to address them being faulty.
2. An effective method of risk assessment also needs to be in place. Risk assessment takes a step further into finding problem areas, and also tries to quantify that risk; in this way you can also start to create a priority list and tackle your higher risk issues/areas first.
Whatever you do specifically, it’s a good idea to at least hit on these points. From there, branch out to include tools and elements that will be the most relevant to your business. More important that individual methods themselves is an exact fit for the operation you run.