Many OHS professionals, get caught up in the latest research, theories, fads, technology, processes, mantras and other displacement activities. We can sometimes forget about the basics of safety, risk management and human interaction. Here is a great reflection by one of Australia’s most experienced and respected safety consultants, Kevin Jones. You wont see any reference to the effectiveness of Zero Harm here!
Kevin’s commentaries on his Safetyatwork blog (A smartcompany Top 20 business blog) are very highly regarded by Safety Professionals, Employers, Govt Authorities and the Media. Kevin is based in Victoria, Australia and is currently looking for new opportunities. You can contact him via email: Jonesk@safetyatwork.biz mobile phone: +61 434 121 163 or his LinkedIn Profile
Safety Learnings From Construction
First published here: http://safetyatworkblog.com/2015/10/08/safety-learnings-from-construction/
People may initially think you are an idiot but, if you are genuinely interested, they will explain what they are doing (usually with some pride in their tone) and offer suggestions of how to do it better or safer.
If you have said that you will look into an issue or provide additional information, do it. If you do not, your credibility with the worker you were talking with and, likely, their supervisor and workmates, is gone.
Go to the uncomfortable work areas
During one railway shutdown on a very hot Australian Summer day, I walked the tracks to a signalling crew that was about a couple of kilometres down the track from a station. I asked them how things were and if I could help. They said that in two weeks of work, my visit was the first by any safety person on the project. Other safety people would drive past in the air-conditioned vehicle and give a nod.
The fact that I took the time to visit, walked to them and spoke to them indicated to the crew that I was serious about their welfare. They raised a couple fo safety issues and I followed up.
There is a good reason that one builds relationships and credibility. They take time and come from raw material of character and personality and a bit of knowledge that is then built on through conversation.
Some safety advisers are “safety sheriffs”. They saunter on to a worksite like they know everything and that none of that knowledge can be improved upon. They are always right and they let workers know they are.
Workers will stop any involvement with the “safety sheriff”. They will avoid his advice if they know it is wrong instead of explaining to the sheriff how he is wrong, as the sheriff doesn’t listen. Why would they? They know everything. (I have heard such people also referred to as God, but not in a good way)
Don’t rely on safety signs
Hazard signs are different. High visibility tape, edging and warning signs are important. What should not be relied upon are safety signs that say things like “What does safety look like?” or “Be careful out there”. These signs are usually interpreted as an expense from head office so that head office can show some visible safety changes.
Such signs are almost always condescending and imply that workers do not know how to work safely. This happens after workers have achieved trade qualifications over many years, undertaken industry wide induction training, sat through a project or site induction program, attended daily prestart meetings and go to a compulsory weekly tool box discussion.
Signs only work to introduce something that is new and any benefit of the safety sign is very short term.
Too many safety people rely on a sign to solve a problem rather than having a safety conversation.
Safety Management Plans
Occupational health and safety management plans are usually written to win a tender. They are often an afterthought to the tender submission and are usually a cut and paste from earlier projects. They indicate from the very earliest stage of the project that workplace safety is a nuisance, an unavoidable business cost, only something the client has any interest in as “no bugger ever reads them anyway”.
The best OHS management plans are those that are written based on a well-formed construction methodology. “This is what we have to do, this is how we’re going to do it, and this is how we are going to do it safely.”
No OHS management is set in stone and nor should they be. Projects change, methodology changes, the construction site changes. To expect a single OHS management plan to meet the needs of an entire project is ludicrous. Companies should be able to amend plans substantially as projects develop and risk profiles change. I always thought that separate OHS management plans for specific construction stages should be considered where only the core OHS commitments or the requirements of the client remain the same. It may not be as paper heavy as one thinks.
I have seen a worker dismissed from a project for persistent non-compliance with site rules, in particular, not wearing a hard hat. I would admit that there was no overhead hazard or any other hazard that demanded a hard hat be worn but the rules of the that worker’s employer stated hard hats were mandatory.
On the third time the worker was picked up for not wearing a hard hat he, as Australians say, “cracked the shits” and told the people on a safety walk that this was “fucking stupid”. The supervisor sacked him.
This event identifies all sorts of problems with workplace safety management but a core element was that the worker failed to respect the rules of the employer, failed to respect the authority of the supervisor and, overall, showed a disrespect for his own safety and that of others.
Whether he should have been sacked from that project is debatable.
If a rule or practice seems nonsense, challenge it in a respectful manner. Make an argument for change. After all safety must change to reflect the hazards presented on worksites and some work practices deserve to be challenged.
Never walk past a hazard
The first time that a hazard is purposely ignored signifies to everyone else that the hazard is not serious, or not worth bothering about, and if the safety person doesn’t see it as important, it mustn’t be important, so don’t worry about it.
Many safety people are anally retentive over hazards and they can be painful to live with BUT their job is to enforce the safety promises made to clients, regulators and workers by contractors and employers in the OHS management plans. If the plan states everyone wears gloves when handling materials, not wearing gloves is a non-compliance. If the plan says that scaffold will be erected without risk of it collapsing, missing struts or kickboards are breaches. If a person is standing at the edge of an embankment to watch the work below, the person has placed themselves at risk and this needs to be corrected.
One person’s obsessive behaviour is another person’s due diligence.
I took a photo of a hazard at the same time of calling to the supervisor. The mistake was that a worker was in the photo and my hazard identification was interpreted as being about the worker rather than the gap in the scaffolding that had been left open.
All of the lessons listed above have originated from mistakes. Some I have made and many that I have been told about. We all have lessons but we don’t all share them and that is doing a disservice to our colleagues, clients and friends.