ASSE 2010: Stop Chasing Ghosts in Accident and Fatality Prevention

Larry Wilson of SafeStart had a message for hundreds of attendees at ASSE Safety 2010: Stop chasing the erroneous belief that other aspects of the EHS program must be addressed before turning to the behavioral side of safety. Instead, he explained, we should all take a hard look at our behavior now and consider how it affects our personal safety, both on and off the job, in order to prevent accidents and fatalities.

In his high-energy, interactive session, Wilson asked the audience to give a show of hands if they have done any of the following: Stubbed a toe, banged a shin, fell down (or up) the stairs, fell asleep at the wheel, blew through a red light, received a cut from a knife or razor, slipped in the bathroom or bathtub, sprained an ankle, incurred back or shoulder strains or fell on something hard, sharp or hot. Hands shot up all over the room for each of these examples.

Obviously, we’ve all encountered various minor injuries throughout the course of our lives. Safety professionals and employees alike can start focusing on the causes and prevention of both minor and major incidents right now.

“The conventional thinking was until you had done everything you could for the hazardous energy – guarded it all, protected people with gear – and you had all your ducks in a row, only then could you start dealing with the people and their behavior,” Wilson said. He called this the “first imaginary belief” and stressed that safety professionals shouldn’t have to wait until everything else is covered before they begin to address people, their actions and their behaviors.

Another imaginary belief or “ghost” that needs to be eradicated, Wilson said, is that equipment failings cause a high percentage of injuries. In reality, he explained, 97 to 99 percent of all injuries – from minor cuts, scrapes and bruises on up – are self-caused. There’s no blaming faulty equipment or lack of PPE.

The Four States

According to Wilson, four states typically contribute to injuries:

  • Rushing
  • Frustration
  • Fatigue
  • Complacency

These four states then cause or contribute to the following critical errors that can increase the risk of injury:

  • Eyes not on task
  • Mind not on task
  • In the line of fire of potential injuries
  • Loss of balance, traction or grip

The key is to use these states as triggers to avoid making an error. As soon as you realize that you’re rushing or feeling frustrated or tired, Wilson recommends turning your mind from the automatic thoughts (where you are rushing to, why you’re frustrated, when you’ll be able to rest) to getting your eyes and mind on the task; taking note if you are within the line of fire of a possible injury; and maintaining your balance/traction/grip. Complacency is more difficult to self-trigger, but being aware that complacency can lead to risk may help.

Focus on Family

Wilson stated that 8,000 child fatalities occur in the United States and Canada every year, and the leading cause of death for people ages 1-44 is accidental injury. More potential years of life are lost for kids who died accidentally than for people who succumbed to heart attack, cancer, diabetes, stroke and AIDS put together.

Wilson has developed a program and DVD for young children teaching them to be aware of hard, sharp, hot and slippery objects – thus ensuring that kids are getting an early start in safety education.

Putting the focus on family also can help encourage employees to pay attention to their safety training.

“People tend to care more about their family’s safety than their own,” said Wilson, who has noticed that employees perk up and pay more attention when they learn their families can make use of this same safety information, as well.

Wilson concluded the session by reiterating that the real “ghost” is the flawed assumption that safety professionals must have everything lined up before beginning to deal with people and their behavior. The time to tack these important issues is now.

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