A Common-sense Approach to Safety

Howard Mavity, Fisher and Phillips LLP
Tags: workplace safety

Why is common sense so uncommon? Don't get me wrong. I make a handsome living in part because common sense is anything but common. However, I like to prevent labor and employment problems, and I would do anything to reduce the number of workplace deaths, so I ponder this question a great deal. In this article, I will leave the psychological, sociological and anthropological analysis to more thoughtful people than me and instead will settle for just throwing out some examples.

Stop to Consider What Safety Hazards are Presented by the Next Task and Act Accordingly

If every worker consistently took this approach to safety, there would be far fewer injuries and deaths, and I would have to get an honest job. Safety must be reinforced continuously, or workers will become complacent and cut corners. I have repeatedly seen employees nonchalantly take unreasonable risks less than six months after they were emotionally torn apart by the death of a co-worker. While it is important to provide the details on confined-space entry and site-specific fall protection, you must also build the simple “pause and think” mindset into employees.

Perhaps more commitment to performing the required job safety analysis (JSA) could be achieved if employees understood that JSAs or job hazard assessments (JHAs) are simply a way to give them the necessary information to make wise decisions.

Even if you are a construction employer working under the broad requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations 1926.20-21 or if OSHA’s "I2P2" becomes law, it is impossible to develop a written procedure for every work eventuality. Workers must be taught to always pause and conduct their own quick JHA.

This informal, ongoing job hazard analysis is especially vital for remote workers or employees delivering ready-mix concrete or working on an isolated HVAC system where no supervisor or safety professional is present to review the site for hazards and instruct them in avoidance.

For these types of employees, it might be a good idea to require them to conduct a hazard analysis on their tablet before proceeding. Sure, employees can still pencil-whip such an electronic form, but at least it may make them pause and think.

On a pragmatic level, employers cannot escape their duty to ensure their employees are safe even when they are working alone on another employer’s site. Such a procedure may be documentation of the employer’s reasonable diligence.