In environments rife with hazards, like manufacturing plants, it may be tempting to forego safety protocols that appear non-critical. Routine safety tasks often go overlooked, especially by seasoned professionals. Familiarity, experience and confidence can sometimes lead to lapses in diligence.
Let’s face it, attending to every detail of a process you’ve done hundreds or thousands of times can be tedious. However, it’s the seemingly overly cautious protocols that prevent the most common workplace accidents. A worker’s small oversight can also lead to bigger accidents. For instance, a common cause of hand lacerations is a worker not wearing cut-resistant gloves. That laceration leads to the worker becoming immediately distracted and losing focus on, say, a more dangerous task. This cascades into a larger problem possibly involving other people, hazards and equipment. Small accidents can easily snowball, especially in risky environments.
All injuries hurt, and even small ones disrupt workflow and may result in an employee needing time off. Lacerations are one of the most common workplace injuries. More than 1 million Americans go to the hospital for lacerations every year. Getting cut is always painful, and if that cut is on a worker’s hand, that person’s work abilities may be compromised. Healthy hands are a must for nearly all employees, especially those using machinery.
Hand lacerations are also expensive. In addition to possible time away from work, they can result in hospital visits, permanent damage and physical therapy. The company may be tasked with insurance claims, increased premiums, worker’s compensation and having to replace a worker temporarily or permanently. The average company cost in insurance and lost work time for a single laceration is $41,000.
It may sound simplistic to say that most common accidents are easy to prevent, but it’s true. Many injuries are the result of an employee being fatigued, stressed or distracted, which readily leads to missing safety details and being careless. This is evident when you consider some of the most common causes of injuries: trips and falls, lifting, falling objects, and collisions between employees or between an employee and an object.
Remind workers to slow down and be mindful. Enact a policy that workers can’t use their cell phones or other screen devices while on the move on the plant floor. Encourage workers to take restful breaks to reduce getting tired. Introduce some fun by occasionally having everyone stop for a one-minute break of jumping jacks or another playful activity. Movement is energizing and breaks up monotony. How can you get creative and devise ways of keeping employees focused and alert at work?
Detailed and regular maintenance checks of equipment are also critical. Machine malfunctions and worn-out tools are destined to cause injuries. Create a system of communication so employees can quickly report any equipment issues, and never allow workers to use tools that aren’t in good working order.
You may have created a detailed safety program, but if you can’t effectively share that information with your workforce and get their buy-in, small, preventable accidents will continue to plague your plant.
It must be abundantly clear from day one that safety is job one. This should be communicated the moment an employee is hired. From there, regular messages, including small reminders on a daily basis, will help keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Also, remember to not just create rules but to let your staff know why these rules are important. People like to know that what you’re asking them to do matters and why.
To keep things fresh, present your messaging in a variety of formats. Send short emails, create colorful posters and share videos. Hands-on drills and role play are also effective teaching tools. Feel free to add a little fun to your messages. Humor helps to get people to pay attention.
Encourage employees to participate in keeping the safety program up to date. Ask for feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Provide avenues for them to chime in anonymously if they so desire. This is a team effort, and workers need to know their input is valued. Be sure to follow up on suggestions and let your team know you are listening.
It’s also important to fully recognize when things go wrong. All accidents should be thoroughly chronicled. Figure out how such events can be prevented in the future, and use all incidents as learning opportunities. Paying close attention to where things go wrong also signals to your workforce that their well-being is your top concern.
There also needs to be tough consequences for those who don’t follow safety measures. One person’s noncompliance can negatively impact others. Everyone must understand that there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to putting anyone in harm’s way.
Your goal should be zero injuries and certainly zero fatalities. Your job is not only to create a solid and detailed plan, but to educate employees about why attending to the smallest details is the foundation of keeping them and their co-workers safe. Sweat the small stuff to prevent all injuries.