With Safety Week upon us, we would like to highlight a very thought-provoking article in Engineering News-Record (April 10, 2017) on the way we perceive near misses and close calls on the project site. These incidents are defined as “unexpected events that cause no significant property damage or injury.” Robin L. Dillon-Merrill, a professor at Georgetown University, believes that when we look at such events as evidence that our safety plan is working, we are in actuality reinforcing dangerous behavior. In other words, these close calls are not safety successes, but rather potential accidents that need to be examined for their potential hazard.
The article gives as an example the worker who uses a ladder with a broken rung and becomes comfortable each time an incident is avoided. “Outcome bias” results when more attention is paid to the successful outcome than to the process involved, which may be flawed. Safety experts view near-misses as opportunities to correct patterns of risky behavior. But this can only occur if the incident is noticed and reported.
Dillon-Merrill states that it is not enough to simply collect data on these incidents; they must be analyzed by the right people. John Gambatese, an engineering professor at Oregon State University, states that workers can become “risk-tolerant” the longer they are exposed to hazards without getting harmed. He gives as examples workers standing dangerously close to traffic cones or jumping into a trench without cave-in protection.
The bottom line is that workers and supervisors must institute policies and incentives that encourage reporting of near misses as part of a company’s safety culture. Shortcuts and risk taking can never be the norm.
Although Safety Week is celebrated in May, HAKS wants its readers to be safe every week of the year, and perhaps this requires looking at safety from a new perspective.