As you all know, this week OSHA is conducting a National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in the construction industry. Falls continue to be a major safety concern in construction, accounting for over 1/3 of fatalities in 2012. This is tragic, because as OSHA states, these falls are definitely preventable.
A stand-down is a great way to educate employers and the general public about the importance of fall prevention. These types of campaigns can really get a strong, consistent message out to many people in the industry, including employers, employees, and various safety professionals. OSHA states that their goal is to have over 25,000 employers and 500,000 workers to hold a stand-down, which would have a significantly positive income on fall prevention.
However, this is only the beginning of the solution. Many employers are probably having stand-downs as I write this. However, of those individuals attending these stand-downs, only some really possess the psychological SafetyDNATM characteristics that are required in order to really make the most out of this campaign in terms of sustainable, behavioral change.
Why? Research shows that people vary significantly on the trait of risk-taking, which is a major component of Exhibiting Caution, the fourth factor in the S.A.F.E. Model of Personal Safety. This trait is very relevant to construction and fall protection. Many falls can be partly attributed to workers simply being overly comfortable with the risks of working at heights, despite knowing fall prevention policies and being trained on proper fall arrest equipment.
Research shows that risk-taking can vary substantially across individuals. For example, our studies show that about 15% can be described as high risk takers when it comes to safety, another 25% are fairly active risk avoiders, and the remaining 60% commonly take some type of safety risks depending on the situation at hand. Unfortunately, in construction, taking a risk when working at heights can quickly lead to one’s death.
So, while about 25% of your people will probably really take the message to heart, what about those 60% that say, “It depends on the situation” and the 15% who would usually say, “I will still take the risk anyway”? How will they respond to your Safety Stand-Down message? How can you truly impact these individuals? Well, below are a few practicals with respect to fall prevention and Exhibiting Caution:
a. Know your people. What kind of SafetyDNA does your team members display? Have some exhibited more risk-taking behavior than others? Get their input on fall hazards and ask them how they plan to mitigate specific fall hazards. Rather than confronting them about following rules, create a dialogue with them and ask them open-ended questions to get their true perspective. This can give you a good indication of what they consider to be “safe” when working at heights, and it may even reveal some unidentified exposures or procedural issues that should be addressed.
b. Ask risk-averse people about potential fall hazards. What potential situations will put your team most at risk for falls? Who better to ask than someone who is high on Exhibiting Caution! These individuals naturally look for ways in which they could get hurt because risks make them uncomfortable. They have likely already noticed some ways in which someone could fall and have some ideas for mitigating the risk. Identify team members with this SafetyDNA and ask them to join you on a walk around of your site. Ask them about hazards you may not have identified, or new jobs/sites that could involve new fall hazards.
c. Address any “gray areas” where fall prevention rules or policies may be unclear or “open to interpretation.” As mentioned above, about 60% of individuals display moderate levels of the Exhibiting Caution factor. These individuals are often the biggest concern because their risk-taking is not extreme or obvious, and often depends on the situation. They are most likely to put themselves at risk when there is uncertainty about when or how a safety policy applies, or when they are in non-routine work/task situations -- where there are no clear safety policies that exist. At these times, they will rely on their own risk perception, which means they simply may not see much danger in an unguarded roof opening or an improperly constructed scaffolding. Provide some specific examples of these “gray area” (at least in their eyes) hazards and make sure that they understand how to identify them, and what the correct safe behavior would be in these areas that may be unclear to them.
By employing these types of simple techniques, you can address people’s unique SafetyDNA in a constructive manner, while fostering personal ownership and collaboration in your efforts to prevent falls at your site. This will help reinforce the vision that you lay out this week during your Safety Stand Down, and will help make fall prevention more sustainable over time.