Beyond Workplace Safety

It's important that workers develop default habits that will still protect them, even when safety's not in the forefront of their minds.

SAFETY has never been a 9 to 5 proposition. So it's good to see organizations increasingly realize that workers can't switch on safe judgment and actions upon clocking in. But, for the longest time, safety emphasis has almost exclusively been at the work site, exemplified by policies and procedures, observation/monitoring, and ergonomic emphasis on design/redesign/purchase of specific tools.

Perhaps the focus at the workplace stuck because leaders saw this as more easily controlled; certainly, equipment availability is within the purview of any organization. Or leaders were stymied attempting to induce at-home safety that actually took, without incurring "mind-your-own-business" pushback. And for those metrically inclined, there's always the question of how to actually monitor off-work usage of safe skills, procedures, or equipment.

Nevertheless, we can't wait any longer to make at-home safety a significant priority. Why? For one, the personal injuries plaguing many companies--strains and sprains, slips, trips and falls, hand injuries--have around-the-clock contributing factors; because soft tissue injuries are typically cumulative in nature, it's critical to affect people's behavior anywhere force buildup occurs.

Second, people often operate on autopilot, especially under time pressures; it's unlikely they'll lift one way at work and differently at home. So it's important that workers develop default habits that will still protect them, even when safety's not in the forefront of their minds.

Third, effectively emphasizing at-home safety can gain the attention and interest of those otherwise bored by workplace safety, who think it doesn't apply to them. ("My job's not risky"; "I'm too old/young/experienced/quick to get hurt"; "Haven't been injured yet"; etc.)

And at-home safety feels personal and relevant to many; we've found this emphasis injects energy and excitement into otherwise same-old safety applications.

Here are some strategies stemming from more than 20 years' experience implementing at-home safety systems with companies worldwide.

• Enlist people's natural motivation. Remember that everyone is already motivated, though perhaps not directed as you would like them to be. If you can determine their personal interests and favorite hobbies, activities, or sports, you have the opportunity to bring in props that will pique their interest from the start of safety meetings or training. You also can invite them to participate or introduce illustrations of safety procedures from an off-work view.

I recall training a group in slip/trip/fall prevention at the end of their graveyard shift (less than ideal timing). One person was dozing off before I even started. I saw he was wearing a baseball jacket and early on mentioned how the techniques of balance I was going to show would not only prevent slips and trips, but also help to improve their sports games, such as baseball. His eyes immediately shot open, a la an instant caffeine jolt. And he remained energized throughout the training.

We make it clear in our MoveSMART® implementations that by practicing safe actions at work, people can improve on skills that apply to what's important to them in their personal life, as well--directing attention; awareness and judgment of changing conditions; balance; strength; coordination and control.
I encourage you to clearly set this link, as well.

• Reinforce they are the safety directors of their own homes; that methods they learn at work (e.g., quickly exiting a building in an emergency) also can protect those they care about: children, older adults, friends.

• Ask workers to bring in at-home items--such as garden or woodworking equipment, common cleaning chemicals, and more--to use in safety discussions they can even help lead. (MSDS for weed killer or laundry detergent, anyone?)

• Teach people to make better ergonomic decisions in personal purchases to get the most out of their money and to be as comfortable and effective as possible.

• For those who think they are injury-proof, suggest they can be a role model to children, spouses, etc. who could operate with greater control or results.

• Make it seasonal. Tie safety meetings or changing procedures to current or seasonal activities (softball, golf, gardening, cutting wood, shoveling snow, pushing shopping cart, lifting grandchild, being active).

• Draw from them, usually one-on-one or during training, successful use of safety methods at home (e.g., we've heard applications to water safety, hunting, team sports, gardening, weight training, and much more).

• Develop and use instruments for gathering data about off-work safety applications, such as through interviews, positive surveys sent to family, etc.

Highlighting at-home safety can provide a sustaining boost of energy and performance in overall behavior and culture. The time for encouraging safe lifestyles is now.

This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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