Accident Prevention: Where Kermit the Frog and Worker Safety Meet
Accidents at work are inevitable, so it is important to train employees so they can to prepare for them.
Just as being green isn’t easy for Kermit the Frog, being accident-free is not easy for workers. Safety doesn’t just happen. It is not a given—we have to work at it. Safety is something that takes constant attention and effort on the part of each of us. Even though there might be company safety practices, each of us is ultimately responsible for our own safety.
However, we’re human and make mistakes, which can lead to unwanted consequences. We do so many things without taking into account that mistakes are bound to happen. The problem is, we often make the same mistakes. Because most of our mistakes have fairly benign consequences, we may simply write them off as a part of life. By doing so, we fail to learn from our mistakes in order to prevent their recurrence, which can possibly lead to more significant consequences if they are repeated.
How many times have you done something that you’d be embarrassed to have others know about? For example, have you ever:
• Crossed a busy street without looking both ways?
• Driven without a seat belt?
• Slipped and fallen in an icy parking lot?
• Ran into a door?
• Tripped over an open file drawer?
• Grabbed a hot pan from the stove with bare hands?
Considering the silliness of those small things, why would you ever:
• Not wear required PPE?
• Wear inappropriate footwear on snow or ice?
• Carry items that block your view?
• Lift anything beyond your physical capability?
• Not report a near-miss or safety hazard?
• Operate noisy equipment without hearing protection?
Do you ever give any thought to how close those little mistakes may have come to having major consequences? What about low probability events that don’t always get your attention because the chances of them happening may be “one-in-a-million”? When low-probability events happen, we can’t understand why because we have “done that a million times and never been hurt.
There are risks everywhere. A risk is anything that has the potential to cause unwanted or unplanned consequences. It may be a hazard that we fail to account for, or it can be an unsafe behavior that puts us in danger.
How do you know what risks may be present? As a child, your parents constantly warned you about behaviors that could get you into trouble. As you mature, you learn from experience. Safe work procedures, warning signs, peer pressure and supervisor oversight on the job all contribute to what we call “common sense.” What about off-the-job, where these safety lifelines are not present?
Consider for a moment the word aware. It may be the most important word to keep in mind when it comes to protecting your safety and the safety of those around you. To be aware means that you know the risks, see the risks and you do whatever it takes to avoid the risks.
Each of us sees daily events in a different light. One of my favorite sayings is, “Why can’t everyone think like a safety professional?” Safety professionals are always on the lookout to identify risks, hazards and unsafe behaviors because they believe that eliminating them will make the workplace safer. They weren’t born with awareness of things that aren’t right—they have developed a sense of awareness and know that conditions are constantly changing, requiring constant rethinking of everyday situations. What stops individuals from developing that same sense of awareness?
What do people think when there is news of an accident? The first thought is to ask if the victim is alright. The second thought might very well be, “How could that happen?” That’s a reasonable question to ask. The answer could be faulty or poorly designed equipment, improper training or ineffective safety procedures. On the personal side, accidents could be avoided if we were to think before acting. Accidents should alert us that something is not right.
There are eight major accident causes, which, according to the BLS, accounted for over 90 percent of all accidents in 2018. The eight major accident causes are:
• Slips, trips and falls
• Struck by
• Struck against
• Transportation incidents
• Caught in/between
• Exposure to harmful substances
• Ergonomic/Repetitive Motion
The first four of these accounted for over 76 percent of all accident causes. These figures highlight the areas most liable to cause problems. Causes have consequences, which can range from a near-miss to a fatality. However, if we look only at causes, we have missed the boat on safety.
I believe that we can put too much emphasis on the causes of accidents, and not enough on the reasons for accidents. To reduce the number and severity of accidents, we must also address the reasons for accidents. In so doing, we must not place blame, but work to identify the risks involved to make safety an integral part of each job. Recognizing the reasons for accidents can go a long way toward insuring individual and workplace safety.
What are some of the reasons for accidents? To name a few:
• Inadequate training or incomplete operating manuals
• Poorly-maintained equipment and tools
• Inadequate guarding of moving parts
• Bypassing guards and interlocks
• Poor planning
• PPE not worn or available
• Failure to follow procedures
• Failure to recognize risk (situational awareness)
• Physical limitations
All of these reflect the need for each of us to not depend entirely on others, but to take personal responsibility for our own safety.
There are many activities—both on and off the job—that entail hazards, ranging from minimal to life threatening. Yet, there are countless people who perform these jobs safely on a daily basis. How do they do it?
It boils down to training people to recognize and manage risks, and to strictly adhere to established safety procedures. To do so they must know the hazards, see the hazards when they are present, then act accordingly and safely. Talk yourself through risky situations to ensure that you are fully aware of any risks that can be encountered. Use a checklist if the activity is complicated.
You can do a lot to ensure your own safety. It’s important to take responsibility for your own safety and not depend on others to do it for you.