The JSA: A Process, Not a Form

What is safety? How is it achieved? The bottom line is that competent, prepared employees rarely get hurt. That sounds pretty simple, but how often do we assume workers are competent and prepared only to learn – typically post-incident – that’s not the case?

The job safety analysis (JSA) is the most basic tool to combat this issue. Unfortunately, the JSA can sometimes be viewed by the job foreman as one pebble in the mountain of daily paperwork to be filled out. To employees, it may be seen as just one more form to sign. On a job that’s behind schedule, it can be blamed for holding up the start of work.

To a safety-conscious crew, however, the JSA is the centerpiece of the day’s activities.

Four years ago, I encountered a foreman who asked me for the definition of a JSA. This man was new to supervision, and his employer did not have a comprehensive safety program that provided specific instruction about how to complete and communicate a JSA. At the time, he was working from a canned form provided by the client. The foreman checked some boxes, noted the location of the job and listed the address of the nearest medical facility. Every member of the crew signed the document and went to work without question.

I invited the foreman to do a walk-around of the job site, during which we could discuss the JSA process. His first comment to me was “Process? The JSA is a form.”

I then asked the foreman what he believed to be the purpose of a JSA. He was honest and told me he thought it was a document to cover him – and the company – in case someone got hurt on the job. He also said it was used to blame an employee who got hurt so any potential for litigation could be eliminated.

Essentially, at some point the JSA stopped serving as a game plan and instead became an excuse. At some point, the JSA stopped being an operations document – designed to instruct personnel on the safe, efficient way to complete a task – and stopped prompting conversation about the task at hand. Instead it became just one more safety form to fill out.

Conversation is Key
As we walked the job site that day, the foreman noticed and corrected several issues. He couldn’t figure out why his workers weren’t doing certain things the right way. “They know better,” he said.

Some employees weren’t wearing PPE. One was standing in the bite. There were housekeeping issues. Workers were using the wrong tools. The foreman was visibly frustrated. He emphatically pointed to the part of the JSA that read “hard hats required at all times.” He showed me the line that addressed housekeeping. He told me the worker who was standing in the bite had been told “a thousand times” not to do that.

I told him an effective JSA could correct all these problems. He dared me to explain how.

“An effective JSA is nothing more than telling me how to do my job without cutting off my finger,” I said.

I could see the light go on. Writing down on a piece of paper that employees must wear hard hats, be their brothers’ keepers and be aware of their surroundings meant little to the foreman’s employees. It was filler, noise at the morning meeting.

A conversation between all parties about the details of the job is critical. Employees are at the job site. They can see the work to be performed. Talking about how they’re going to execute the job – without injury – is both natural and necessary.

If you are the foreman, consider who is doing what on the job. Look right at them and ask how they are going to do it. Maybe they have a different idea about how it should go. Maybe it’s a better idea. Either way, be sure everyone agrees on the play before anyone snaps the ball.

Now that you know who is doing what and how it’s going to get done, you can build on that. If everyone is on the same page, the likelihood of one employee tripping over the other – or getting in the bite – drops dramatically. Efficiency improves right along with safety.

Of course, getting the JSA process going is only the first step. From there, follow-up must happen to ensure the plan is effective. There are a great number of checks and balances as the job progresses, and supervisory, management and safety personnel must continually monitor and coach workers to make sure everything stays on track. Continue the conversation throughout the day. Get input from the employees turning the wrenches. Make that part of the plan.

Yes, the JSA must be written, but a form is just that – a form. Until you take the information on that form and open a dialogue with the employees who will perform the work, the JSA is pointless. Once you’ve demonstrated to everyone involved that they have a voice, safety and productivity will almost surely prevail.

About the Author: Chris McIntosh is a safety professional, safety and fitness trainer, and writer who lives in Conroe, Texas.

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