Safety Myths are Prevalent in Industry
There are a multitude of myths and wrongheaded beliefs in the safety arena.
- By Peter Furst
- Apr 01, 2021
Ideally, the management of safety should be guided by management, driven by supervision, engaged in by employees and supported by a knowledgeable specialist. In reality, the management of safety is treated separately from other organizational functions and is based on OSHA standards as well as what is considered "best practices." Over time, these best practices grew out of anecdotal information, unsubstantiated data and uncorroborated assumptions. Eventually, these beliefs have come to be accepted into the fabric of our "safety" culture and, therefore, taken for granted. This makes them myths, and, as a result, difficult to eliminate.
Some Issues with Safety
There are a multitude of myths and wrongheaded beliefs in the safety arena. These myths are accepted as prevailing wisdom. As a result, many improvement strategies deployed based on these myths make the management of safety ineffectual to some degree. Safety is not a thing or an activity in and of itself. Safety is an outcome or byproduct of an activity engaged by a person performing his or her daily work. How he or she goes about performing tasks can result in being safe or sustaining an injury.
The underlying issue with safety is thinking that somehow it is different from other aspects of the business operations. Almost all firms have safety programs, but generally, they don’t have production, efficiency, or possibly, quality programs. There are no toolbox talks, posters, signage, or training for production, efficiency or quality. Operational personnel manage these as part of their responsibility, and yet, when it comes to safety, organizations go about managing it differently. Achieving safe outcomes requires planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and managing just like any other aspect of the business and field operations.
Sone Common Safety Myths
Safety Is Common Sense
“Safety is common sense” is one of the prevailing myths. The individual making that statement assumes that everyone thinks and feels the same way. That is pure nonsense! What one person perceives as "risky" another may think of as quite safe. Some people skydive, others bungee jump, some race automobiles and others rock climb. Many people would never dream of doing any of those things under any circumstances. Others may view what may seem exciting to some people as total insanity to others. Taking risk is a very personal matter. It is based on one's appetite for risk, personal life experiences, belief in one's capability and/or one's ability to identify and assess exposure. To effectively manage risk, the organization must clearly define what is acceptable and what is not and then actively manage it.
OSHA Compliance Creates Safe Work Environments
Another myth is that compliance with the OSHA standards will create a safe work environment. That is not completely true. Case in point is how falls from heights are dealt with in the standards. OSHA requires fall protection when the fall exposure exceeds six feet for most trades. The trigger for scaffold erectors is 10 feet. The trigger is 15 feet for metal deck installers, carpenters working on purlins, etc. For roofers, it is 20 feet, and connectors (iron workers) need fall protection for falls greater than 30 feet. Just what underlying scientific logic justifies this? Simple physics will tell you that the kinetic energy resulting from a fall increases with distance. The laws of physics do not make allowance for different trades; gravity treats them all equally!
Safety Training Is a Leading Safety Indicator
Safety training in and of itself leads nowhere in particular! The training sign-in sheet provides proof of the number of people who attended and not much else. The underlying assumption is that if workers are given the appropriate training, they will use this to work safely. For training to be effective, an evaluation has to be made as to what knowledge, if any, a particular worker is deficient in. There then needs to be an assessment of what the content of the training material ought to be, selection of the method of presentation, the competence of the presenter, confirmation of the understanding of the material, a verification that the information was relevant to the work being done and that the trainees are utilizing the information and using it effectively in their work practices.
Workers Need Refresher Training to Keep the Focus on Safe Work Practices
This is another one of the myths that seems to have support from both safety practitioners and management. If we think about this one rationally, it is hard to accept that a reasonably intelligent person forgets the few salient points that relate to the subject of the refresher training. Ladder use is an example. There is only a half dozen or so elements to remember to accomplish proper ladder setup. Assuming that the workforce is reasonably intelligent, how is it possible that they would forget these few salient points? The reason for improper ladder setup might be something other than knowledge deficiency, therefore, much of refresher training is an ineffective use of finite resources and does not address the underlying problem.
These are but a few of the myths and wrongheaded beliefs that abound in the safety management practices of many organizations. Everyone in the organization is a stakeholder in safety, from the owners to the managers to the workers. It is in everyone's best interest to achieve a safe work environment. Achieving this, however, is difficult because myths that are part of the shared belief system leads to unrealistic safety management policies, practices, processes, attitudes and expectations.
A paradigm shift is required. We need to critically evaluate our systems, practices and procedures with unwavering candor, face the brutal truth, have the fortitude to challenge the status quo and decisively act. Once we have replaced the myths with more reasonable and sustainable assumptions, we open up avenues for structural changes and the way safety is managed. The picture is not all bleak, as many companies are working diligently to create proactive safety cultures. This in and of itself is not sufficient, for they must understand that safety is a subculture of the organizational culture, so, what is critical is the need to align safety with operations, unify systems and treat safety as a part of the integrated whole.