Reducing Injury Requires Controlling Hazards

To reduce injury, we must reduce hazards and at-risk behaviors. This first requires identifying the hazards. Identifying hazards requires a combination of employees, site leaders, site safety personnel, and outside experts knowing what to look for and regularly observing and auditing. Once hazards are identified, they should be reduced or eliminated. This can be done by either removing the hazard completely (e.g., substitution of materials, automation) or designing engineering controls (e.g., guarding, interlocks) to prevent people from coming into contact with the hazard. However, when it is ot possible or practical to remove the hazard completely, lower level controls should be considered. The next most effective controls are typically warnings (e.g., signs, alarms) or administrative controls and training (e.g., job rotation, lockout/tagout procedures, equipment inspections). Finally, if none of the above controls are possible, PPE should be used (eye protection, respiratory protection, fall protection). Combining the lower level hazard controls may provide additional protection. However, even combined, the lower level controls will not be as effective as eliminating the hazard, thus allowing the probability of eventual injury.

Although few would argue with the need to follow the standard hierarchy of hazard control listed above, its use depends on first identifying the hazards and risky behavior. There are many methods of hazard identification. Traditional auditing and inspections by both company personnel as well as outside experts (e.g., mock OSHA inspections) can be particularly useful. When behavior-based safety is done correctly, it not only helps identify at risk behaviors, but can also identify the factors that influence them (e.g., equipment limitations, management systems, safety culture, etc.).

It is also important to ask people their perceptions of the most important hazards and their causes. However, informally asking a few questions to individuals usually doesn't allow a very comprehensive assessment of people's perceptions. Therefore, a more formal assessment, such as through a perception survey can be a useful diagnostic tool to help identify issues negatively mpacting the organization's safety culture and/or which may serve as an obstacle to improvement efforts. Then, follow-up on areas of particular concern may be needed to help understand the reasons for the negative perceptions and identify strategies for change.

The Impact of the Safety Culture on the Organization

An organization's safety culture reflects the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values that employees share regarding safety. Many experts agree that to optimize safety performance we must transition from a "dependent" culture to an "interdependent" one (Tebo, 2002; Geller, 2005). Organizations must leave behind the notion that managing safety primarily involves issuing rules and ensuring compliance through discipline ("dependence"). Instead, the organization's safety culture must promote a sense of shared responsibility for safety through genuine empowerment. The organization must truly value safety and everyone in the organization must feel responsible for others' safety as well as their own ("interdependence"). Further, the culture must encourage individuals to act on that feeling of responsibility by taking action to prevent injury to themselves and others (Geller, 2001).

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