Why review this topic? Let’s start with complacency – the “silent killer.” Job experience is a good thing; it allows our workers to be more efficient and do their tasks correctly. However, when workers are too comfortable, they lose their sharp edge.
A healthy questioning attitude is necessary for every task, every day, because things change. The tools may not be in perfect working order. The truck may not be sitting on a level surface. A light rain changes working conditions. As the average age of our workers increases, complacency becomes a bigger concern.
Another reason to review this topic is that we are constantly battling human nature. If we have issues going on at home (e.g., sick children, problems with the spouse, financial concerns), these interfere with our ability to focus on work. We are easily distracted – talking about the football game, vacation plans, people going by the job site and so on. Our ability to concentrate is easily affected by hunger, the amount of rest we get and our health. Given all the things that can affect us, it’s a miracle we can think about work at all!
How do we get our workers to focus? Below are a few of the proven tactics you can use to get your workers to look for potential hazards and stay focused on the task at hand.
Safety meetings – Oh no, you didn’t! Did you just groan when I started with safety meetings? If your workers are not coming out of those meetings pumped up, you’re not doing it right. Find brief (less than ten minute) videos that clearly show potential hazards in the work that you do. Take pictures of actual work locations with your workers. Split the group into teams and do a game show talking about potential hazards. Bring in guest speakers. Use creative ways to get them thinking that something bad could happen if they are not paying full attention every day.
Pre-job briefings – This tool is available every day. The pre-job briefing sets the tone for the day. You need to have a good structure for your pre-job briefing that forces the crew to review the work and potential hazards. A great way to keep the workers on edge is to regularly run your pre-job briefings as reverse briefings. Rotate the responsibility through the crew to have one of the workers lead the brief, not always the foreman or lead. This approach gets the whole team a lot more engaged in the briefing. It also allows your leaders to observe the workers. Are they getting the message instead of focusing on delivering the material? An effective pre-job brief will identify all the potential risks and how the team will combat those risks.
Job site review – This is another very effective tool for getting the workers’ heads in the game. When the crew (or individual) gets to the job site, “take 2 for safety.” Have everyone spend a few minutes looking around the job site, then huddle up to talk about the potential hazards in the location. Make it personal and real. What are the things that can hurt or kill you, and what are we going to do together to do this job safely and correctly? Develop a checklist or pocket card to support running these job site reviews.
Individual knowledge – Workers need to have an understanding of human nature, how to recognize hazards and how to respond. Whether you call it behavioral safety or human performance, you should have a program the gives your workers this type of knowledge. They need to understand more than just the technical aspects of their job, but also how to deal with distractions, how to work well with the team and how to handle potential hazards.
Supervisory oversight – This last tool is one of the most important. We usually think that the primary role of the foreman or leader is to make sure the work is done technically correctly. I challenge you to re-think the role. Your workers have been trained and have technical skills. They are less experienced monitoring their own behavior. Are they paying full attention to the conditions that can harm them? Are they communicating correctly? Do they recognize changing field conditions? The most important thing your supervisors can do for safety is make sure workers remain attentive to the work they are doing on an ongoing basis. The job is not done until they are safely back at the service center.
Our workers are exposed to many conditions that can hurt or kill them. They are hard working and proud professionals who want to get the job done. We owe it to our workers to help them improve their safety performance.
As simple as it sounds, the first order of business is making sure they have their heads in the game. Step one – start the brain. Step two – begin working. Be careful out there.
About the Author: Tyrone Tonkinson, Ph.D., PE, has more than 27 years of utility experience, with management experiences in a number of roles. He specializes in delivering human performance and investigation training, and is a regular presenter at safety conferences. For more information, visit www.simpleapproachinc.com.