Terry McDonald: Site Safety

Familiarity can breed complacency, in our lives and in the workplace, so it's important to constantly seek out ways to stay focused on the job at hand, and to encourage employees to do the same.


I recently read an interesting article titled “Puncturing the Myth of World Class Safety.” It appeared in Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, and it endeavored to explain the meaning of “world class” safety. In doing so it came to the conclusion that claiming world class safety was mostly a marketing gimmick. The real truth is that, while world class safety is an admirable goal, it is also unreachable as an ongoing situation. If you should reach this goal, it would immediately create an environment that would defeat itself, as safety is an ever-changing requirement. It reminds me of a sign I pass every day on the way to work. On it companies present how many days of safe work they have achieved, and the goal that they are trying to reach. For the last year it read 360 days without an accident, and the sign recently listed 720 days without an accident as the new goal. I suppose that next year it will read 1,080—or I would hope so. Motivations like this do prove to be a good incentive for your workers, however they have a limited shelf life. It is important that you update and rethink your motivations, just as you must constantly update and rethink your safety program. Any signage or similar motivational tools need to be changed and kept up to date on a regular basis. These types of motivational tools are only as good as the system behind them for being changed and updated, otherwise they simply blend into the background and are ignored.

We don’t want our employees or ourselves to ever become complacent about safety in the workplace. We must be ever mindful of complacency, because as we know, the more any of us perform a task, the easier it is to become complacent and conduct our work without being aware of the hazards that surround us. Simply think of yourself driving. If you have been driving for a long period of time, you probably just consider it a means of getting from one point to another and do so without thinking of the possible hazards involved. However, if you are a new driver, you are much more “in tune” with your surroundings and keep track of the hazards involved with the operation of the vehicle. I know that when I drive to work every morning, I sometimes block out my surroundings. I may be thinking of the things that I want to accomplish that day at work, or a discussion I had with my wife or kids the night before, or even just a fishing trip I am looking forward to. I have been making this hour drive five times a week for a lot of years now and, as they say, probably could do it in my sleep. This is really dangerous. All of us are susceptible to this complacency, and it is this very situation that is the cause of most accidents. You have operators that do the same thing over and over again every day, and it is important to realize that they can become complacent in this process, just as we can in our vehicles. They begin to think of other things and do not remain aware of the hazards the process presents. This is human nature, and a very difficult thing to combat. You know that an accident always occurs when you least expect it.

How do we attempt to combat this complacency? Well, one way is to make sure that that each employee remains focused on the activity that they are involved in. This is very easily said, but very difficult to accomplish. We are back to motivation. It usually helps if you can make the individual employee responsible for their work. Sometimes something as simple as a card that the employee must sign and date and that accompanies the work to the customer is enough incentive to help keep the employee focused on the job at hand. Another possibility is to establish a buddy system. In other words, make each employee responsible for their buddy’s safety while at the job. This can keep them focused on their surroundings and make them all more safety-conscious employees, and therefore much more unlikely to be injured themselves.
If you have any suggestions as to how we can combat complacency in the workplace, I would be very happy to hear them. I can be reached at the e-mail address listed below.

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is partner and manager of Repair Parts, Inc., and a current member and past–chairman of the American National Standards Institute B11.11 Subcommittee on Safety Requirements for Construction, Care, and Use of Gear Cutting Equipment. McDonald writes this monthly column specifically for Gear Solutions magazine, and he can be reached at (815) 968–4499 or rpi@repair–parts–inc.com. The company's Web site is [www.repair–parts–inc.com].