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Countering the Human Element that Leads to Incident

Regulatory agencies and companies take significant action in attempting to thwart incidents and injuries. While Big Brother mandates the rules of ensuring a safe workplace, companies must initiate policies and programs to gain and maintain compliance. 

Although it seems elementary in actually identifying as an action and reaction sequence, there might just be more to the picture than originally considered. It would be simple to maintain a safe working environment by responding to a mandate with authoring a policy that meets its stipulations and requirements, but, unfortunately, it is never that easy. 

Commonly known as OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration delivers the governing guidance of how companies protect the workforce from harm. For those who work at heights, OSHA instituted certain criteria as an action item to protect employees should they actually fall when working at height. Companies reacted by drafting fall protection policies to guide their employees on the precautions they must take to work safely. It seems pretty cut and dry. OSHA mandates the use of fall protection, and companies provide that fall protection equipment and train the employees on when and how to use it. One might think that with this scenario, safety will prevail, and everyone will do as directed, thereby avoiding a hazardous outcome. 

A big issue remains and threatens to derail the entire process. It is best described as the human factor. The mandate for the policy is a great step in identifying the hazardous activity. And the policy accomplishes wonders in laying out a response plan, but the action and reaction falter due to the human component. Neither can account for full-time compliance. There is no doubt that a policy can stipulate penalties for non-compliance on the worker’s side of the equation, but how does the company actually make the employee comply? 

Coaching and Mentoring 

This word problem of safety systems failure sees the greatest chance of success through coaching and mentoring. Threats and screams rarely render success, while attempting to help the workforce see the importance of safety offers a higher success rate. 

The employee that continually fails to don the necessary eye protection is typically labeled a repeat offender. PPE is the worker’s last line of defense against hazards, so one might consider that someone should have a significant reason for not wearing them. The key to successful coaching and mentoring in this situation is to listen to the offender and identify the driving force behind their lack of compliance. It is at that point some common ground might be had. 

While a safety policy normally mandates the use of safety glasses in the field, that does not necessarily mean the worker will comply. Digging deep to identify that common ground most times identifies a response that is never accomplished through threatening the individual or degrading them in front of their peers. 

Instead of firing that individual for not wearing safety glasses and wasting the time and funds utilized in training the person for the workplace, find the opportunity to reason with them. Ask if they really want to gamble, missing their son catch the winning touchdown or seeing their daughter at the altar on her special wedding day. 

Getting to know employees and understanding what they consider important is a critical tool to be used in the coaching and mentoring process. Call on their leadership abilities. Provide positive reinforcement when the correct action is taken. If that same repeat offender starts wearing safety glasses as needed and is no longer bucking the system, an attaboy goes a long way. 

Training 

For every regulation handed down by OSHA, it is matched with the need for required training. In the majority of the proactive safety cultures found throughout all industries, training takes place at the onset of hiring a new employee and then annually thereafter as a part of refresher training. If the policy changes at any given point, the workforce must be sequestered to receive adequate training that educates them on the newly changed program. 

Training provides a great outlet to reach the workforce. This means that while they might be continually working throughout the year, all must succumb to mandated training. It provides the coaches and mentors an opportunity to visit and publicize the correct message of the compliant and proactive safety culture. 

It is important to note that while agencies like OSHA require the training, they do not stipulate how it must be conducted. This allows the latitude for companies to shape their training programs to be successfully administered through that proactive concept of coaching and mentoring.

Those coaches and mentors now have the ideal opportunity to transfer the safe work message. With the use of a robust coaching and mentoring metric during the training phase, the workforce can be reached before they even have to face the potential hazard in the field. This strengthens the chances of avoiding injuries and incidents and leads to a harmonious and safe outcome. At the end of the day, companies want their workers to return home safely. Accounting for the human element and countering its potential effects early can make that safe travel home a reality. 

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]

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