Q: What is the purpose of a safety program?
A: To create an operational plan that will prevent work related accidents and illnesses. Right! So to create a plan, we need to understand why people have accidents – by choice or by chance? In the early 1970’s Federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was formed with the express purpose of creating laws to help prevent workplace illness and injury from accidents. The fundamental building block of OSHA was the general duty clause which says: “Every employer shall furnish his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The concept of “hazards” resulted in tens of thousands of pages of regulations focusing on the premise that hazards were predominately conditions. The idea was, if we just guard everything and create a barrier between people and work processes, we can eliminate accidents. This is a mistaken premise. Studies suggest that 80% of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts; only 20% are caused by unsafe conditions. If we look at the 20% that are attributable to unsafe conditions we will find that those conditions were actually caused by people. Therefore, the focus of our resources should be toward better understanding the “choices” people make that get them hurt. The question is “Which personal choices were made before and in conjunction with the accident that contributed to the event?” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines an accident as “an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance… an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance.” By dissecting this definition into the key words, we begin to uncover the fundamental reasons why accidents occur.
Key Word: Careless Are there people in your operation who are careless? Do they appear to be “an accident looking for a place to happen?” Think back to when you were a teenager — 13 or 14 years old. Let’s say your parent came home from work and said, “Here are the keys to my car. Go to the store and get me a dozen eggs, a 2-liter bottle of cola, and some toilet paper. I want you home in one hour.” You get into the car and proceed down the road at high speed in an erratic fashion. Seeing you, a neighbor comments that you’re a careless driver. Are you careless? Perhaps the correct word is not careless, but ignorant. Your mother or father chose to be careless and/or irresponsible for not assuring that you knew how to drive and were of the appropriate age to operate automobiles.
Key Word: Ignorant Everyone starts out ignorant! Have you ever received an application from a prospective employee who appeared to be the greatest thing since sliced bread? This candidate had all the right qualifications but when he/she began work, there was an obvious lack of practical application skills. All employees need training in how you expect the task to be accomplished. You’ll only know if an employee understands how to perform it correctly by seeing him/her demonstrate the task. Once an employee is no longer ignorant of how to perform a task correctly, we can call that worker’s actions carelessness rather than ignorance. Your responsibility is to identify and correct careless behavior through counseling, re-training, warnings and/or termination.
Key Word: Unforeseen Are accidents really unforeseen? Was the Challenger shuttle accident unforeseen? Actually it was foreseeable. The investigation revealed the O-ring leaked during four previous missions. It also uncovered management’s disregard for a number of fail-safes which were bypassed as isolated “exceptions” that ultimately became the “rule”. Accidents are foreseeable at your company as well. Many of the accidents you have at your operation today are the same types which have always happened — often to the same people. That shouldn’t be a surprise because you may be repeating the same kind of tasks. If you want to prevent accidents, however, you need to evaluate the circumstances and choices that have surrounded them and apply correction to those particular work activities from now on. Statistics garner us these conclusions: the root causes of accidents give us valuable lessons, and a large pyramid of occurrences you can learn from underlies a serious ‘capstone’ accident.
Key Word: Unplanned Do we plan our accidents? This does not mean having a “death wish.” What part do employees play in getting hurt? Let’s take a non-work example and then apply it back to work situations: Suppose you and a “significant other” were asked to go skiing with a group of people after work. You were supposed to meet the group at 6:00 p.m. on the slopes. It’s 5:15 p.m. (Your boss waited until the last minute to talk to you about tomorrow’s production schedule.) It will take nearly an hour to get there. At about 15 minutes into the trip you remember you had an appointment to get new tires that evening because your tires were nearly bald. Oh well … I’ll re-schedule it for next week. It’s 5:45 p.m. With a heavy foot, you made great time on the freeway. (Thanks to the great new laser/radar detector you got for Christmas.) But, as you round the corner, you hit a patch of ice and go over the cliff. Was that accident (in its truest sense) unplanned? You didn’t want to crash and burn, but in one sense it was planned on. You made the choices. You decided to speed. You decided to risk driving on inferior tires while on icy roads. With such factors, could this event really be called unplanned? In the same vein, don’t forget that your employees choose every day. They make personal choices on how they conduct themselves on the job. Do they choose to work harder instead of smarter? Do they choose to take shortcuts? Do they choose not to wear personal protective equipment? Do you choose to allow this to happen? Management’s job is to identify the personal choices employees make that result in accidents. If they are bad choices, they must not be allowed. Once you recognize these, employees must be trained and motivated to make the best decisions for their health and safety as well as for the company. This needn’t pit production against safety — which are not two mutually exclusive issues. We believe an accident is an inefficiency in the production process — one that causes pain, financial loss and lowered morale — and is usually caused by a bad choice. Good management practices discover and strongly influence those choices. Don’t take a chance. Your SeaBright Insurance Loss Control Consultants are ready to help you identify the choices which will strengthen your safety program.