The numbers do not lie. Almost 90% of work-related incidents are the fault of human behavior. The remaining 10% of incidents are related to mechanical failure or environmental factors in the workplace.
Why then do employees continue to repeat the same bad choices regarding their safety and welfare if they are in control of their behaviors? In the aftermath of regret, have you ever made a mistake you wish you could take back? I would bet that most of us do feel this way. A possible side effect of mistakes is change, which can be powerfully life altering. These lessons may change our reactions, behaviors, and choices enabling us to make wise and more thoughtful decisions. Especially when we begin to realize that the mistakes we made are ours and not the fault of others, forcing us to be accountable.
The Definition of Insanity
When a tenured employee walks out on top of a railcar to load it and fails to wear fall protection what is going through his mind? He is in a dangerous situation and has now chosen to make safety a non-priority. The employee has training and the proper equipment. He may have repeated this dangerous behavior a dozen times over the years, all witnessed by other employees who said nothing. The employee may have been written up, but continues to repeat this behavior. The excuses from the employee not to wear fall protection are too numerous, but here are the ones I’ve heard the most:
- I was in a hurry.
- I couldn’t find it.
- It’s broken.
- (Or my favorite) I’ve done this a million times and nothing has ever happened.
No consequences, until the very worst possible outcome occurs—the employee falls. It might not happen today or even the 100th time the employee walks out when they are not tied off, but it will happen eventually.
Expecting Different Outcomes
Let’s take the same tenured employee not wearing fall protection and put him in a facility that has a 100% tie-off policy. This means wherever the employee is working and could be exposed to a fall hazard four feet or greater, the employee must wear fall protection. When the employee fails to wear fall protection that employee will be terminated on the spot, no questions asked, and escorted off the site.
Do you think the employee would still take the same risks if a consequence was the loss of their job?
I have worked in those kinds of facilities and yes, employees would still be caught not wearing fall protection and a multitude of other safety violations would occur. However, having training along with strong safety policies and following through on disciplinary actions did consistently lower the occurrence of employees not following safety rules and did prevent accidents.
Same Old Situation
Maybe it is time to liberate safety training, throw out the boring lectures, and find out how to motivate employees to follow these important rules. There has been a recent movement in the world of safety to ensure that employees are also coached to be safety leaders. This means that employees are getting skills to teach, lead, and coach other employees to also be safe and make good decisions.
Training employees to have difficult conversations has helped students’ conversational skills when confronting fellow employees if unsafe behaviors are noticed. This training along with diversity training has been wildly successful and opened lines of communication in the workplace. There are fun ways to creatively accomplish training that captures employees’ interests and get them thinking about why safety is important.
Ultimately for each employee, it is about being safe, so that each day they return home to their loved ones. Employees have a choice to make so help them make the right one. Stay safe!