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EHS OutLoud Blog

Get a Hold of the Root

car.jpgLet’s play the game Catch Phrase for a minute. I’ll give the hints. Ready? Go! Two words. Most the time you feel like you’re getting ripped off. They’re expensive. You don’t really have a choice in the matter. They promise it will only take an hour to finish. They service or fix your vehicle.

OK, time is up. What did you come up with? The answer we’re looking for is “auto mechanic.” If you guessed correctly, you win the prize of reading the rest of this article.

I have nothing against auto mechanics. In fact, I’m somewhat envious of their knowledge of the inner workings of the automobile. Sure, I can change a flat tire or my oil if I’m in a pinch, but that’s it. Otherwise, my descriptions of any truck problems I may have run along the lines of, “It’s making a clicky, clangy, squeaking sound.” I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true. So when a mechanic tells me what might be wrong, I look at him like Albert Einstein’s friends when he came out of his basement and said E=mc2. Sure Albee, whatever you say. $1,000 for a 10-cent plastic piece that could prevent my engine from exploding into a million pieces … who do I make the check out to?

Getting Aligned

Fortunately, I found a really good shop near my house. I needed new tires, which I hear are pretty important, and this particular mechanic informed me that I can continue replacing the tires, but they’ll keep wearing out quickly until I have my tires properly aligned. He was right. I can keep patching up the obvious issues, but unless the root cause of the problem is taken care of, it’s only a matter of time before I’ll need to replace my tires again.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) in safety is an approach to identifying any and all factors that resulted in an accident or near miss due to certain behaviors, actions or conditions and in which one, if not all, need to be corrected to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. RCA is predicated on the idea that a problem is best corrected or eliminated at the root cause of a particular incident rather than just focusing on the problem’s consequences. Sort of like a doctor treating the cause, and not just the symptoms. This approach usually is much different than our natural tendencies to solve problems in a reactive manner.

In order for RCA to be effective, it needs to be a part of a systematic, in-depth investigation of specific events and timelines that played a part in the accident or incident. There may be more than one factor that resulted in the harmful, destructive outcome. Your analysis should be a part of a fluid and continuous program, as jobsites, people and environments are always changing. Of course, all findings need to be backed up with documentation.

Here’s an example of a very simple RCA system:

>>Describe the incident or event based on the facts, not what you think may have happened.

>>Gather all the pertinent documentation and pictures.

>>Ask the “who” and the “what” questions.

>>Classify your findings into groups. (i.e., People, Environment, Equipment, etc.)

>>Indentify solutions and corrective actions to prevent future events.

>>Implement those solutions and corrective actions into your procedures and trainings.

>>Observe effectiveness of the new changes in your procedures.

>>Continue to monitor.

If your company doesn’t currently have a written investigation program that includes a root cause analysis system, you might want to look into it. Multiple sources are available that can help you find what you’re looking for. It’s worth the investment.

As for my truck’s alignment issue? Thanks to getting to the root, the source of my tires wearing out so fast has been taken care of. Now my truck is easier to maneuver and safer to drive.

Guest blogger Aaron J. Morrow, CHST, works as a project HSE manager and is a safety consultant, an OSHA 500 trainer, a Cal/OSHA 5109 trainer and a construction risk insurance specialist.

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