Understanding Behavior-based Safety

Understanding Behavior-based Safety

There is a reason they are called ‘accidents.’ Let us look at usual dry facts recorded by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2014, the US building boom spiked construction worker injury and death on construction sites increased by 5% in 2014, to 874%. Hundreds of thousands of workers are injured on the job, filing an incredible 1 million workers’ compensation claims a year for both temporary conditions – such as broken bones and sprains – and permanent injuries, including paralysis and loss of limbs.

In another take, the BLS also stated that nationwide, a preliminary total of 4,679 fatal work injuries were recorded in 2014, up from the revised count of 4,585 fatal work injuries in 2013, according to the results from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program. In Pennsylvania alone, 2014 saw the incidence of 175 fatal work injuries in 2014.

How does it happen?

Maybe a story will work better where statistics might be hard to relate. Take the case of Steve, an experienced technician. He was performing a simple task but his mind wandered and his hand strayed.

“I was cutting compound miters on a radial-arm saw.  It was real routine – make a cut, move the piece, make a cut….

“Like 99.99% of the injured workers you talk to, I was tired, hassled, and rushed,” Steve says.

“A couple of people found the tips of my index finger in the sawdust. They put it in a coffee cup with some ice, and the doctor was able to take the skin off and graft it on. The finger works fine. It’s just a little narrower.” 

Steve keeps this memory fresh so that he won’t run into trouble again. “From that day on, I haven’t run a piece of work through without imaging my finger going into the cutter.  That sounds horrible, I know, but it gives me a heightened awareness.

Unfortunately, to maintain a heightened state of awareness is hard. So hard, that in the course of work, no means should be spared to keep workers in a perpetual state of awareness of the logical, if unexpected consequences of their every action. It is a fact that even experienced automobile technicians get hurt. They were performing a simple task, their stopped paying attention for just a moment and a hand went the wrong way.

Safety Begins in Your Head

If we are talking about the logical but unwanted consequences of actions of a number of people who are engaged in potentially dangerous work, then the best way understanding the problem is to take a look at the way people behave. Anywhere people come together in a group to engage in a task that is greater than the sum of their parts, the organization has a responsibility to ensure the safety of each individual.

When it comes to large scale operations such as a factory assembly line, or even a public beach, the concept of behavior-based safety largely lies and is dependent on people’s values, attitudes and belief system. The most commonly used system in behavior-based safety is the Hierarchy of Hazard Control. This comprises of five components that escalate to pretty much nail all the areas that you can be instrumental in promoting a culture of safety. Let us quickly understand these components:

  1. Elimination: The most effective way to deal with a hazard is to simply remove it; often physically.
  2. Substitution: The second most effective approach is to replace the hazard with something that is safe, such as changing to lead-free paint or materials to take just one example of substitution.
  3. Engineering Controls: This is the third most effective way. By engineering controls, we simply mean keeping people away from the hazard. Enclosure and isolation are two main principles of engineering controls for hazards.
  4. Administrative Controls: Procedure changes, training, signage and labeling are some administrative controls. Here, experts at Clarion Safety suggest, symbols on safety signs and labels that show human interaction with a hazard give viewers more imperative to take precautions to avoid it
  5. Personal protective equipment: Finally, it is down to wearing protective equipment such as hard hats, air filters, gloves, safety goggles, etc.

If we are talking about the purely behavioral aspect, the most important thing is knowing when to stop what you are doing because you are about to cross the point of no return is important. You should know the limits of your abilities and knowledge. Just like excessive force, excessive ignorance is a sure sign that things are going, or are about to go wrong. Remember, it costs nothing to stop at the beginning of a task but it is very expensive to undo any damage that might result of over-confidence.

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