Safety 2012: Be Your Coworker's Keeper

Protect coworkers from deadly distractions. Improve your own safety awareness. Have no regrets. These are just a few reasons why you should maintain a close watch on your fellow employees and ensure they are working safely.

During a June 4 session at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2012 conference in Denver, John W. Drebinger Jr. outlined five reasons employees should watch out for each other's safety:

1. When you keep an eye on other people's safety, your own safety awareness improves. "Every one of us in this room has a gift. We see hazards that other people don't notice," Drebinger said. "That makes us and our families safer."

2. Even "safe" workers can get distracted. When asked why they want to work safely, employees might cite their family, friends and off-the-job hobbies. Ironically, those very things may distract employees from their safe working practices. On a sunny summer afternoon, for example, an employee may be caught in a daydream about spending the day at the beach with his family or going golfing. Just like that, he's distracted from his work and might risk an injury. Watching out for your coworkers' safety can help prevent the problems that could arise from distraction.

3. We're all at risk of occasional cognitive failure. When you are staring right at your keys but still can't find them, or for a split second don't notice the car speeding along toward you on the road, you are experiencing cognitive failure. If this happens during a high-risk job, the consequences can be devastating. "We watch out for people because they're not perfect," Drebinger explained. "Our brains fail us. Cognitive failure can set your best worker up for the opportunity to be injured."

4. You'll never have to regret that you could have said something but didn't. "I have interviewed people who saw [a safety concern], didn't say something, the person got hurt and then they are haunted for the rest of their lives," Drebinger said. By speaking up if you see something potentially dangerous, you'll never have the nightmare of knowing you had the power to help change the outcome but failed to do so.

5. It's just the right thing to do. Maybe no one will praise you for pointing out a safety risk – at times, you might even be met with resistance – but it's simply the right thing to do. "There's real power to that," Drebinger said. Simply put, you can't argue with doing the right thing.

Roadblocks and Concerns

Drebinger also acknowledged the most common reasons people don't say anything when they witness coworkers working unsafely. First and foremost, they might not think anything bad will happen as a result. "Most of the time when someone takes a risk, it doesn't pay off in the negative," Drebinger said. "Too often we're faced with a hazard and think nothing will happen."

It also can feel uncomfortable to point out a safety concern, and it's human nature to avoid the uncomfortable. At other times, people simply might not know how to go about informing a coworker that he or she is doing something unsafe. Drebinger provides a solution to this concern by approaching someone exhibiting at-risk behavior and asking, "Would you like me to watch out for your safety?" The question begs a "yes" answer and, at the very least, creates curiosity, he explained.

Drebinger added that how you respond when someone raises safety concerns is critical. Create a work environment where employees are praised and thanked for identifying such concerns.

"That's how you create a safety culture: to make people feel so good they're looking for the next person to help," Drebinger concluded. "Pointing out hazards becomes expected when everyone does it and gets praised for it."

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