Workplace hazard assessment
 Feb. 25, 2013

Are work-related accidents the result of events beyond your control? Although uncontrollable events can cause work related injuries, they account for a very small portion of those events. Research shows that most accidents are usually caused by unsafe acts or unsafe conditions. Unsafe acts are thought to cause about 85 percent of work-related injuries and unsafe conditions about 13 percent. That leaves only 2 percent that are caused by uncontrollable events.

If you're responsible for safety within your organization, where do you think your resources should be applied? Consider why employees work unsafely. Often it’s because they are unaware that their behavior is unsafe because they have never been told it's unsafe. They haven't been properly trained in the safe methods of doing their job. Studies have revealed that when employees work unsafely, they are not getting regular reminders and feedback from their supervisors. Additionally, workplace conditions may encourage unsafe behavior. If management emphasis is on productivity at any cost rather than working safely and avoiding accidents, employees will tend to develop unsafe behaviors that can lead to accidents.

The reward structure in many organizations can favor unsafe behavior because it is nearly always faster, more convenient and even more comfortable to work unsafely. Additionally, rewards for productivity often times overshadow recognition for safe behavior.

Consider the instance where an employee does not use a machine guard because it will increase the number of items produced during the day. They do not have to move around the guard or reach around it to fabricate the completed product. The employee is rewarded for his/her productivity, but perhaps at the cost of serious injury.

Another problem is that every unsafe behavior does not immediately result in an injury. If the reward for working quickly is certain and risks of injury appear to be low, it is easy for a worker to take the risk. But, regular unsafe behavior almost always assures that eventually injuries will occur. Making matters worse, there is usually no consistent predictor that will pinpoint when unsafe behavior will result in injury or to whom the injury will occur.

Maybe a change in the reward system can help. Both rewards and punishment influence behavior, and punishment produces minimal compliance and lower overall morale of employees. Rewards, on the other hand, result in extra effort from employees and generally high morale. Punishment should be used only as a last resort, while legitimate everyday praise is the best reward for safe employee behavior.

As mentioned above, unsafe behaviors and conditions cause accidents. However, there is usually ample time to correct unsafe conditions before an accident occurs. In most cases someone observes unsafe behaviors and conditions at least once before an accident actually occurs.

This is why systematic identification and assessment of workplace hazards can lead to a safer working environment for all employees. How do you find unsafe behavior? Look for it! Conduct physical inspections to uncover unsafe working conditions and job safety analyses to identify work tasks and procedures and determine whether or not they are safe. Behavior-based accident investigations can identify unsafe acts before they lead to another costly work related injury. And remember, incidents are accidents without loss, investigate both accidents and incidents.

Avoiding accidents requires a systematic approach to evaluating the work process. Supervisors should take time daily to observe the operations they are responsible for and identify unsafe behaviors and unsafe conditions. Quickly correcting those shortcomings will dramatically reduce the chance of work-related injuries.


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