Falls are one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities and violations related to fall protection have been at the top of the Occupational Health & Safety Administration's (OSHA) list for the past six years. Unfortunately, fall injuries and fatalities continue to increase, even with the safety industry working hard to reverse this trend.

To be clear, I do not think building better and stronger personal protective equipment (PPE) for fall protection will change these results. Despite significant efforts by OSHA, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and other groups, the struggle against knowingly and unknowingly risky behaviors is our focus, and it is an uphill battle. A good safety record, coupled with entrenched methods of information processing, training, and social influences, can lull organizations into a false sense of security, leading many to believe they are good, rather than just lucky. While self-talk and mental shortcuts can lead to risky decision-making for workers, there are many practical and evolving methods for reducing falls.

By recognizing the powerful social and cognitive factors that can impact behavior—and by implementing better systems through proven fall prevention and protection techniques—organizations can improve safety and reduce risk.

Social and Cognitive Factors

It is common for people to be shocked when they witness or view documentation of a worker actively overcoming safety precautions and putting themselves in harm's way. But it is understandable due to information-processing shortcuts—or heuristics—that are a commonly used cognitive tool. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that ease the load of decision making, although they limit a person's ability to reason intuitively. The failure in judgment and decision making is especially poor when related to issues with greater orders of magnitude (i.e., life and death) (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974).

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