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Real Life Drama in the World of Behavior-Based Safety

by: Thomas Allgood of Allgood Solutions
A Behavior-Based Safety Company

Most of us spend our days at work doing the same task over and over. All too often, it becomes such a routine that we adopt a “nothing to it” frame of mind. Before we know it, we are daydreaming of our times spent with our families. We may even witness someone being injured on the job or at least know of someone who has, and still continue with the routine. Witnessing an injury in the workplace can bring our safety awareness to an all time high only to be replaced over time by complacency again. 

Sometimes only when we actually witness the effects that a workplace injury plays on the other person’s family do we stop to consider that it could have been me?

I have witnessed the after effects of a disabling workplace injury and seen the tremendous impact and burden that it brings on an entire family. I have also experienced the personal benefits of a Behavioral Based Safety process at my workplace that continues to have a lasting impact on my safety as an individual. However, not all companies teach and practice the behavioral observation approach with their workers.

 

In our everyday lives in the work force, we can usually find several opportunities to observe potential dangerous situations that require a specific type of safe behavior that has to be taken to avoid an injury. However, without the proper training and a systematic approach to hazard recognition, our eyes become calloused making it difficult to consistently practice the technique of making safe behavioral observations. At my job site, I have been trained to practice this proactive approach to my safety, but many sites around the country do not have this process in place, and end up depending far too much on basic luck. I would like to tell you of a real life incident where one such work site process called “luck” existed.

 

It was early one morning at the start of the workday. My brother-in-law, Robert, was going about his usual duties at a concrete plant that made septic tanks. Robert’s job was to feed the rolls of reinforcement wire in-between 2 rollers that would unroll the wire and flatten it out. Then, the sheet of wire would be bent into the forms of the septic tank.

 

That Monday morning at 6:30 am in October of 1998, Robert had no idea that at 6:45 am that morning, his life was going to change forever. Like any other day, he began feeding the wire into the 4-inch rollers, which I might add, had strings of beads welded along the rolls to grab the wire to make sure that the rollers would bite the wire and keep feeding it into the machine. Fourteen minutes into the process, the machine’s appetite was relentless as it pulled the heavy gage wire in between the rollers. Then in the blink of an eye, it happened. Roberts little finger on his left hand momentarily hung up in the wire mesh and the feeding action of the rollers began pulling his hand into the rollers. The cold realization that his left hand was not coming back out hit the pit of his stomach, so instinctively, he moved his right hand into position to try to free his left hand. For a moment, he thought that he could save his left hand, but then it went from bad to worse. His right hand had now become entrapped in the rollers and Robert was immediately facing the gruesome prospect of being completely pulled into the machine head first. At this point Robert was trying desperately to somehow pull himself free from the grip of the machine. As the rollers snatched the fingers off his left hand he continued with his right hand to free the left. All this time the kill switch was located on the other side of the machine and all he could do was screaming for help. By the time help arrived and the machine was shut down, Robert had lost most of both hands and continued
to be pinned in the machine until the ambulance arrived on site.

 

Now where has that gotten us from there? After many painful surgeries, Robert has only 2 thumbs, one in which they help make from a toe. His life remains changed forever. Even the simple task of buttoning his shirt must be done with help.

 

Having a behavioral safety process at ones work site is not a complicated matter.

Without such a process at Robert’s workplace, consider the personal loss and at what cost. Reflecting back, Robert believes that he had performed this task over 20,000 times in the course of his employment. So what happened? Why could he not see the danger, or did he see the danger and simply no longer recognized it as such? Repetition and slowly loosing sight of the hazard after doing the same thing over and over soon begins the process of setting one up for an incident. Then, it simply becomes a matter of time. That’s why it’s so important to have others observe you doing your task and then getting feedback from another set of eyes. Robert told me himself, “There is no telling how many close calls I had before and didn’t realize it. Not to even mention the kill switch on the opposite side”. With a behavior safety process in place, Robert would have not only had more eyes on him doing the task, but his own visual perspective would have become more focused to see for himself the hazards around this task.

After going and looking at the place where Robert was hurt, I was left with such a gut wrenching feeling inside. It was so obvious to see how easily this disabling experience could have been avoided. An inexpensive modification to the equipment combined with a basic safety observation process would have prevented this injury.

 

Behavior-based safety prevents incidents because it provides a systematic approach to working safe. Would it have saved Robert? Absolutely! One observation by a trained observer could have spotted several at-risks spots to eliminate the exposure. That’s exactly what I meant earlier by stating why a proactive approach to safety is preferred over a reactive one. The at-risk situation would have been eliminated and the equipment improvements would have been made instead of waiting to fix the problem after Robert had been injured.

 

The key to a truly effective safety process is total involvement. I have had the good fortune of helping other work groups start a behavioral safety process at several different sites, and the first thing I express is the need for engagement from all the employees.

 

This is what my company preaches from the start. The first step is for us to come in to do an assessment of you site to evaluate and see if your employees are ready to embrace such a process. After employee interviews we do an inspection of injury reports over the past year to access what behaviors should be addressed. Once we have established that a process will not only work, but will definitely reduce the amount of injuries, we meet with management to plan forward for our second step which is the steering team training.  This training will take 3 to 4 days.

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The training we do is a very cost effective way to not only reduces injuries but to engage employees in taking a role in eliminating the barriers that keep them from working safe. It helps management in their daily work schedule by hourly employees taking a role in eliminating 90 % of the barriers that they were dealing with each day that keeps them from working safe. The bottom line in the process we set up is that management’s workload is reduced and hourly employees are engaged in safety. A win-win situation for all involved.

 

I am convinced that a mature behavioral safety approach is the key to long term safety success. Remember, start your process with a core group of employees and nurture it. Watch it grow and build momentum and with it will come engagement. I guarantee it.

 

 

 


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