Five Tips to Improve your Ability to See Hazards
By Carl Potter,
CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD, CMC
Have you ever found yourself reading an incident report
concerning an injury to a worker or damage to equipment and wondered
“how in the world did that happen?” More than likely it
happened because someone didn’t recognize a hazard. Hazards are the
source of personal injuries and damage to vehicles, equipment, and
property. Hazards abound at home, work and play. The problem: we
don’t see them until they hurt us.
It’s no joke when someone says “I didn’t see it coming!”
Recognizing a hazard requires a trained brain that quickly analyzes
the risk and the consequences posed by the situation. It’s not
unusual to find that a worker involved in an incident was trained to
control hazards associated with his or her work, but had not been
specifically trained to see the hazards. This is all a part
of the gap between knowing and doing: people know what to do when
they recognize the hazard, they just don’t see it.
Hazard control is the key to preventing injuries and damage,
yet to control the hazard, employees at all levels must be trained
to recognize them. When you consider this, you’ll start to see the
problem in many places. Carl shares the following event that
occurred while he was on a trip:
I was on a business
trip to Dallas and happened to look out of my hotel room window. I
observed a group of workers cleaning the side of a building across
the parking lot. It was obvious the workers were clueless to the
danger they had placed themselves in.
The challenge for
these workers was the distance between the parking lot and the
building to be cleaned with a pressure washer. Add to this the need
to raise and lower the worker operating the pressure washing wand.
We often talk about human ingenuity. Well, workers can be quite
innovative and get the job done yet put themselves in a precarious
situation without even recognizing it.
These workers had
parked a mobile scissor lift in the parking spaces parallel to the
sidewalk and the building. The building was approximately twelve
feet from the scissor lift. Employing a two by twelve wood board
about sixteen feet long, they lashed one end to the floor of the
scissor lift. This resembled a diving board, if you can imagine.
Being astute innovators of equipment, they positioned three large
workers as counter balances to hang on the outside of the guardrail
of the lift. Being safety minded the employee with the wand in his
hand was standing at the end of the “diving board” wearing fall
protection that was clipped onto the basket of the lift twelve feet
away (and yes, I am sure the lanyard employed a de-accelerator).
Got the picture?
Being a studious
safety professional, I quickly went downstairs and walked toward
these hard working, creative gentlemen. As I approached, I said, “I
am not with OSHA, but as a certified safety professional it is my
duty to stop your operation.” They all got wide-eyed. It was
obvious that they heard, “OSHA” and misinterpreted. They stopped
working abruptly so I assume they knew their behavior was unsafe.
When I asked who was in charge, one of the workers ran through a
door and quickly produced the supervisor who was very cooperative.
explained that it was his idea to use the innovated contraption
until the rental company delivered the snorkel lift (expected to
arrive on site in the next two hours). After a few minutes of
discussion with the supervisor and the workers they realized the
consequences of their behavior could have been serious. We all
shook hands and agreed that they would wait until the rental company
showed up with the proper equipment and I promised to not write them
a citation (they still thought I was with OSHA). It was just
another day in the life of a safety professional.
Without the ability to see hazards, people will put
themselves in positions that can lead to personal or co-worker
injury or damage equipment.
Train Yourself to
humans often think that we are above reproach and know that we have
been well-trained. Sometimes that can turn into pride and that will
get us into trouble. So many times we face unknown or unseen
hazards in the workplace. One of the first things you can do is to
consider your overall perception of safety. Do you consider that
you can have little influence over what happens – that external
forces are the primary cause of injuries? Or do you have an
internal focus that lets you know that you have a great deal of
control over the environment or situation? The degree to which you
perceive that you have control over the consequences of a situation
is known as the locus of control or LOC. People
generally have a strong internal or external safety LOC.
One of the first things you can do to train yourself to see
hazards is to consider your LOC. If you have a strong external LOC,
you are likely to think you have little control and therefore may
not look for or consider the hazards. This calls for some deep
introspection. Think about the times that you’ve been able to avoid
injury by wearing your personal protective equipment or by following
a procedure. You can even look back on incidents that occurred
because you, or someone else, didn’t follow safe work practices.
Challenge yourself to look for the things that you can control. If
you have a strong internal LOC, you may go too far in thinking that
you personally can control hazards and may not use all of the tools
and technology at your disposal. It’s simply a good idea – you’ll
be surprised how much better you ‘see’ hazards with this personal
Five Steps to See
the Unseen Hazards:
It’s important to
recognize that we all have trouble seeing hazards sometimes, yet
there are several things you can do to improve your ‘hazard vision”:
1) Recognize your
own perception of your ability to control hazards.
2) Discuss and
list the typical hazards associated with your industry or your job.
3) Work with more
experienced people from time to time and ask them what hazards they
see – then determine if you see the same ones.
4) Take another
look around a new work site with the intent of finding hazards that
you missed the first time.
5) Read incident
reports or investigation reports from others to continuously learn
about new hazards.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to train yourself
to recognize hazards is to learn everything you can about
controlling various hazards. From that perspective, you’ll discover
information that you can apply to keep yourself and others
injury-free at work and at home.
Read other articles and learn more about
Potter and Deb Potter.
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