Last week, I suggested developing the good habit of a Refocus Reset to reduce job-related injuries by as much as 90%. This week, I share a related statistic: over 80% of workplace injuries arises from worker behavior.
It’s not easy to acknowledge that we all make mistakes and despite our best efforts, we all experience errors in judgment. To offset this, we try harder and tell ourselves to focus more. This is natural behavior, and yet when it comes to construction work, the tendency to over focus can be its own form of a safety hazard. You see, when we over focus on one specific task, we fail to recognize obvious hazards. To illustrate this point, I share with you the following true story.
A few years ago there was an incident where a fairly new shop worker fell into a hole in the floor and required several stitches in his leg. The opening was visibly flagged and it seemed incomprehensible that an injury could occur with such a well-marked hazard. The post incident interview went something like this:
Interviewer: “So, you saw the caution tape?”
Interview: “Do you understand what caution tape means?”
Worker: "Oh, yes."
Interview: “But you stepped over the caution tape and fell into the hole?”
Worker: "Yes, that is pretty much what happened."
Upon further questioning, it turned out that the employee was on the end of a tag line at the time. He was so focused on keeping the plate steady that the consequences of stepping over the caution tape did not register.
If this story seems a bit unbelievable? It’s not. Research into workplace injuries confirms that intense concentration on a specific task reduces the capacity to recognize ones surroundings and any obvious hazards. As a result, a significant number of workplace injuries have occurred.
As a member of Donley's Safety team, I realize I cannot stop the pressures that construction workers face on the job. I also have to acknowledge that intense focus is needed to complete our jobs because construction work can be dangerous work. However, what I can do is bring awareness to this topic and suggest ways to balance intense focus with awareness of surroundings. Again, as I mentioned last week, the 4-Second Refocus Reset is a great habit to develop to ensure awareness of the hazards around us, but there are other tools that are effective as well.
The Safe Task Analysis, or STA is one such tool. Donley's requires all our subcontractors to complete an STA each day. This living document is a pre-task planning tool that is updated daily so that each team member knows his/her task(s), the associated hazards, and how to control or eliminate the potential for the hazard(s) to cause harm.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using this tool:
- Everyone has input
- Identify task(s) for the day
- Identify what hazards could potentially cause an injury no matter how trivial they may seem
- Identify other trades working in close proximity and ask the question “Can work be safety performed around them?”
- Identify how to abate the hazards identified by asking “Do I have the right training,equipment, and/or material?”
- And lastly, if the task(s) change, start over with a new STA.
Folks, the STA is still a piece of paper; it won’t save a life. But, it will help change behaviors that will ultimate lower the percent of construction site injuries that occur.
We will never know what we have prevented from happening, but we will definitely know what we didn't.
William Powell III, or Billy as he as known to most, is a Regional Safety Manager for Donley's, Inc.