Safety Leadership: How One Achieves Two Results

It’s no surprise that safety leaders have to deal with many issues simultaneously.

It’s no surprise that safety leaders have to deal with many issues simultaneously. Having this busy job often has side effects, and leader sometimes drop some balls, complete some tasks with barely minimal attention, and are split and frazzled. The good news is that the same mindset of getting several things done at one time can also work towards injury prevention.

This especially applies to sizably reducing two of the most common types of injuries in many companies—soft-tissue (strain/ sprains) and slips/trips/falls (STFs)—at the same time.

These two kinds of injuries are costly in almost every business sector, accounting for 64.7 percent of all compensable injury costs, according to the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. And, that’s just in direct costs.

I’ve written and spoken many times about Simultaneous Leadership, or aiming to attain multiple results from one specific initiative, plan, or action. In this case, Simultaneous Leadership refers to achieving both injury reductions and heightened engagement at the same time. Pairing these two has not only has this proven to be doable, but it’s actually essential to cross-propel results that are both meaningful and lasting. In this case, I’m specifically suggesting targeting two injuries for sizably reducing at the same time. Just think of these four overlapping connections:

Soft-tissue and slips/trips/falls both typically share common contributors. These tenacious injuries are personal and strongly affected by individual characteristics. They affect all kinds of people doing a wide array of tasks, at work and at home, all over the world. And both have complex, multiple contributors, including off-work influences (habits, activities).

Typically, loss of balance is the obvious first thing that comes to most people’s minds with slips/trips/falls. But our over three decades of experience has consistently shown that even a small decrease in balance is a significant contributor to soft-tissue injuries, even when this loss is not extreme enough to result in impacting the ground. Think of it this way: balance and physical strength are directly correlated. That is, the more off-balance I am, the more I have to apply my bodily strength to staying on my feet, giving me less muscle power available to push, pull, lift, carry, etc. The job of a baseball pitcher is to get a batter off balance, knowing that if the latter is on his toes, even if able to make contact with the ball, he won’t be able to drive it nearly as hard or far.

Other intersecting contributors to soft-tissue and slips/trips/ falls include: weakened areas from previous injury, physiological effects from aging (lowered range of motion from collagen breakdown, slower reaction time, sarcopenia/age-related muscle loss, etc.), strongly attentional contributors (distraction, inability to switch attention, inability to sustain focus, etc.), dealing with continuously changing risks, leadership defaulting to “same-old” injury reduction approaches that have only worked to a limited degree or have plateaued out. The list goes on.

Both soft-tissue and STFs can readily occur in uncontrollable environments, at home, between sites, or on others’ turf where it’s either not possible or cost-effective to modify out risk factors.

Soft-tissue and STFs are often “chicken-and-egg” injuries. For example, a slip can result in a sprain as fear galvanizes people to over-tense – which, when combined with sudden force, can create soft-tissue problems. And, vice-versa, if someone is still feeling effects from a soft-tissue injury, their range of motion may be limited. This might result in their inability to safely recover from an initial loss of balance from overcompensating for pain or weakness. What could have been a near-hit (which most people have experienced) instead becomes a full out impact fall.

The two injuries are typically targeted by similar interventions. From signs and awareness reminders/campaigns to personal protective equipment (from shoes to back belts) to environmental controls/equipment (nonskid mats to color coding step-ups to lifting aids) to writing off these injuries as minimally preventable.

The injuries can be prevented. The good news is these injuries can be prevented with a strategic organizational approach, proven to result in 45 to 85 percent reductions in these injuries in a wide array of industries worldwide, such as Northrop Grumman’s Lake City plant, ONEGas (a three-State utility), US Steel’s Gary Works plant, United Airlines, and many more.

So how can leaders successfully address both injuries at the same time?

  • Communicate common but often nonobvious contributors and underlying factors in both slips/trips/falls and soft-tissue injuries.
  • Build a strategic leadership approach to simultaneously reduce these two common chicken-and-egg injuries simultaneously. Doing so widens awareness, raises injury-prevention skills, and conserves resources.
  • Place people more in control of their own safety with these “personal” injuries. Accomplish this by transferring two types of practical and easily learned and applied skillsets: mental and physical.

Mental skills include: developing a mindset of personal control, best mental preparation and decision-making in addressing any task (including seeing unique inherent risks as well as particular environmental challenges) and harnessing the three Laws of Motion. A significant mental skillset sharpens the ability to control attention, and it begins with self-monitoring and self-adjusting balance and building tension.

Physical skills include: understanding how to sense and adjust for superior natural skeletal alignment, harnessing leverage with minimal force necessary, significantly deepening balance, linking eye-hand coordination, bracing most effectively, developing smoothness in movement, and syncing breath to physical activity to maximize strength and control while minimizing tension buildup.

So, how can one strategic approach lead to improving two results? It comes down to maximizing leadership leverage by reaping the greatest results from minimal input and effort.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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