very informative, im sharing this with my automotive community
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A Pair of Assumptions that get People Hurt
In numerous intervention sessions, I've run across a pair of assumptions about safety that feed each other and often end up in safety near misses or injuries and have the potential for much worse.
In numerous intervention sessions, I've run across a pair of assumptions about safety that feed each other and often end up in safety near misses or injuries and have the potential for much worse. The first assumption is by the supervisor assigning work. Specifically, the assumption goes something like: "when I assign a task to an employee, the employee knows how to do it safely and if there are hazards associated with the work, the employee will tell me."
The second assumption is on the part of the employee being assigned the work. Specifically, "my supervisor must realize the risks involved with the task or that we haven't really thought the risks through. So, he must expect me to take my chances. I haven't been hurt yet. I'm pretty skilled and careful, so I guess I can do it." The employee does a quick assessment of his or her incentives and disincentives (P.O. the supervisor, slow the job down, risk being labeled a whiner, etc.) and sets out to work without raising the concern.
Here we have a perfect communication breakdown. The hazards are not brought up. Both parts of the equation are balanced. Then when the employee "makes do", without the fall protection, the multi-meter, the lift equipment, the crane or help from another employee, we're playing the odds, which just tilted away from our favor.
This perfect breakdown really works. If something goes wrong and the employee gets hurt, the employee can claim the supervisor knew darn well what he was setting up. The supervisor will be able to exclaim "why didn't you say something?!" Perhaps the worst outcome for the safety culture though, is the case where no one get hurt this time. In fact, if no one gets hurt, it's very likely everyone involved will be rewarded for a job well done - on time and on budget! The dysfunctional system and complacency about safety is reinforced, no knowledge or skill is gained in avoiding hazards, and trust in the commitment to safety takes another hit.
As I've noted before, I don't believe in, and my experience has never confirmed "evil-doers" in safety culture. Of all the hundreds of supervisors/managers I've worked with, I've yet to meet one that really doesn't care if employees get hurt. I've also never met any employees that really wanted to risk injury for spite. Organizational cultures create this kind of breakdown. The culture that leads the supervisor to despair of having enough time, materials and manpower, and rewards output while turning a blind eye to the risks taken to achieve that output, create it. The culture that leads employees to fear being ostracized for risking the deadline or budget over a safety issue, that rewards risk-taking employees as the "good guys", or insidiously conditions employees to believe it risks everyone's jobs if they take the time and expense to do the job safely, create it. The organization forces the players into the assumptions and when something goes wrong, forces them into the finger pointing that follows. It makes both take positions they know are disingenuous forcing them down a path of further distrust.
What to do:
Time after time, one of the most favored safety improvement projects among employees is planning safety into the job. To work, this planning has to be built into the workday. It really should start at the proposal stage. It has to be formalized to the extent of being on the critical path - no safety planning, no work. For predictable tasks, it should be built into the planning documentation. Then, there has to be an acceptance of stopping and solving when something unanticipated comes up. There is no excuse for an organization putting its supervisors and employees in the no-win position of having to choose to risk safety or risk punishment (formal or informal) for not getting the job done.
Learn more about the author, Robert J Wagner.
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- safety culture