“Safety Chats,” Waste of Time?

Every month or two, we seem to learn of a human error that either costs corporations or individuals millions; or, worse, causes severe injury or death.  It seems that, as intelligent people, we would learn from all these errors and be able to change the way we go about tasks – change the way we behave – so that these errors would be greatly reduced.

But they just keep happening.  Why?

Perhaps looking at how we approach the subject of workplace health and safety gives us a clue. After all, safety is supposed to be a commonly understood goal that everyone wants, right?

One aspect of the term “safety” means that no one gets injured and that certainly is a goal we want.  So, companies invest in people and programs that move the company toward the goal that no one gets hurt.

Various training programs are used to raise employee awareness of how they are supposed to use tools, clothing equipment and procedures to avoid injury.  The Department of Labor, OSHA and other agencies have produced tons of training programs.

Work teams are encouraged to conduct safety moments – also called a safety minute, safety brief, or safety chat—on a regular basis as an important element of a comprehensive workplace safety plan. This is a way to reinforce that health and safety are a top priority in the workplace and develop a strong safety culture.

Even though strong people are put in place to manage health and safety programs and good tools are used, injuries keep happening.  To be sure, it might be encouraging to know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a gradual decrease every year from 5.0 injuries per 100 employees in 2003 to 2.9 injuries per 100 employees in 2016.

But are we okay with 3% of our workforce being injured? 

What’s more, the statistics – and most Health and Safety programs – do not include accidents that result in equipment or product injury which can be enormously expensive for the company’s financial health.

So, what’s missing?

Consider the common reaction of a workforce to the words “Safety Chat.”  Some readily embrace it, yet many will consider it a waste of time because they believe that they inherently behave in a self-safe manner and that they know how to follow operating instructions and labels.

The latter group considers the “chat” as a bunch of people talking about danger without actually doing anything that seems concrete or relevant to the latter group.  “Kumbyah” comes to mind.

What is missing is a gut-level tie to human factors that put people in a mistake/accident zone.  Using safety goggles in no way relates to how a person might be able to perform a task.  Is the person sick, under excess stress at home, under pressure to leave work early to get to a child’s soccer game, etc?  Is the person impulsive, feeling invulnerable, showing off, etc.?  Has a manager changed a deadline or quota?

What are the Human Factors?

None of these human factors are taken into account in a typical safety chat because chats involve materials and procedures.

In addition, chats are often inconsistent from team to team.  The lexicon used in chats are often different too.  As a result, chats seem to resolve concerns about equipment and procedures but do not effectively provide a vehicle to discussing human factors.

Therefore, we see that the paths people take after a chat that does not include human factors frequently result in an accident happening anyway.  When accidents occur after chats, the validity and relevance of chats diminishes and are often abandoned.

EPTI has developed a simple yet easy to use discussion tool for “safety chats called AESOP™.”  It highlights each of the key areas that an individual or team should consider for establishing a safe error free working environment.  It puts some meat on the bone so that everyone has the same productive agenda for the “safety chat” which is now called “doing a quick AESOP!  More on AESOP™ in the next blog.

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