Personal choice and safety

Article by Kathryn Lourenco

Personal choice and safety

At setters, we're passionate about safety, driven by the core belief that no one should be harmed through work. When we talk to clients about helping them improve their safety performance, what we're really talking about is zero harm: reducing/eliminating injuries or illness.

Many of the clients we work with have reduced the number of accidents and incidents occurring. But aren't consistently achieving zero harm.

Nearly all accidents are due to the choices people make. With our clients, we look to:

1. understand what makes people make the choices they do,
2. inspire people to make different choices,
3. contribute to a culture of helping others when they're seen to be doing something unsafe/not following how they were trained to do the job.

Embedding safety and quality in an organisation's culture can be quite tricky. It is a balance of managing the production and quality with always being safe. Often time pressures mean we don't follow a safe way of working. Shortcuts are taken - and then people get hurt.

What's the worst shortcut you have seen? I recently heard that someone was using a grinder but not clamping the item to a workbench and instead was using their foot to hold the item in place. It doesn't take much imagination to know when the grinder slipped and what the outcome was.

When looking at what drives both safe and unsafe behaviour, choice is always very high on the list of what causes accidents or incidents in the workplace.

As the quote above says: "You are FREE to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice".

Organisations or even our own values may mean we follow the safe way of working, the way we are trained to do something, but often we make a conscious or subconscious choice to deviate. This could be something simple like standing on a chair to change a light bulb instead of getting the step ladder. Or it may be using the wrong tools to do a job because it would take longer to get the right tool for the job.

We often don't consider the consequence at the moment we are undertaking a task or activity. This lack of consequence insight or foresight can lead us to make some incredibly poor choices.

This is when intervention by someone who can see the risk, even if you can't, is key. Someone that's confident to intervene and stop you before it is too late. But often, this doesn't happen - for numerous reasons, we will cover in another post.

Despite having policies and procedures in place, it can't account for the choices people make.

Working with our clients, we hear about many choices people have made, from operating machinery knowing they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs to not wearing goggles when grinding material, as the job will just take a minute! These choices often have very serious consequences.

Every minute of every day, we are choosing what we will do. Some of it is habitual, some are spur of the moment, and a lot is without consideration of the consequence. Again, the simplicity of choice and what we regularly do and how that influences the decisions we make is why continuing to have safety conversations is incredibly important. Not just by the health and safety team, but by everyone throughout the business, home or out and about.

Article by Kathryn Lourenco

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