Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mind the gap: Overcoming the biggest hurdle in safety

One of the biggest mysteries is why well-trained people fail to follow their company’s safe work practices. Consider the following statement: “The gap between knowing and not doing is much bigger than the gap between knowing and not knowing.”

The gap between knowing and not knowing is easily overcome through training. The tough gap to overcome however is when people know something yet they fail to apply it.

It’s not hard to find examples of the “knowing-doing” gap in our workplace. Consider how many times you find people welding without suitable eye protection or failing to tie off whilst working at height. Unfortunately, the gap becomes all too real when investigating a workplace injury, where the injured failed to follow basic safe work practices that could have easily prevented the incident.

If you’ve ever been to London and used the underground rail system, you’ve no doubt heard the recorded voice loudly announcing “mind the gap” to remind embarking and disembarking passengers about the space between the platform and the train. It’s as if we need to have that same voice to remind us to mind the gap between worker’s knowledge and their actual performance.

It’s essential that leaders recognize, and then do something about, the gap. Give some thought to your own workplace, and answer the following questions:

1. What evidence is there to indicate an existing knowledge/application gap?

2. How are supervisors trained and supported to deal with situations where workers fail to apply safe work practices correctly? Bear in mind that most supervisors have risen from the ranks of the workers.

3. When last have you as an organization reviewed your safe work practices and training for relevance and interest? Outdated, impractical and dull training can lead to apathy, which in turn reduces efficiency and adds to the gap.

As you consider your own workplace and find that you have room for improvement, these four guidelines provide some steps you can take:

1. Involve a cross section of employees in a review of all current safety procedures and standards. Get their input with regard to the application of these rules.

2. Print a hard copy of your entire health and safety system. Take a highlighter and mark every instance where you find the words “shall” and “will”. These words are often misinterpreted and very loosely used in documents. The word shall means “without deviation” whereas the word will generally indicates a guideline. Ask yourself: Is it reasonably possible for workers to follow those rules that contain the word shall?

3. Does your safety manual include all the rules associated with your industry and are all employees trained in the application of these rules? Ensure that the gap between knowing and not knowing is addressed, as this gap would automatically give rise to failed application.

4. Avoid the typical desktop specialist review by creating participative review forums. Participation leads to ownership which in turn leads to acceptance and reinforced application.

Do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone knows the rules and how to apply them to their work, so you can have a workplace where everyone is mindful of the gap. This is the only way to ensure your workers can go home safely to their families.

It’s all about application - It’s that simple. One of the most important attributes of a good leader, whether a CEO or a supervisor, is to facilitate the application of appropriate knowledge.

What can you do to help others apply what they know?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The most underrated key to workplace safety

In some workplaces, good housekeeping tends to fall at the end of the priority list for both management and employees. But that’s a problem because there is a direct correlation between a clean, neat, well-organized workplace and a safe healthy one.

Good, safe housekeeping doesn’t just happen. Nor is it something you can focus on once a month and forget about. It’s a daily mission that must be tackled with energy, focus, and purpose. You have to plan for it, involve employees in it, and sustain it. But if you do, the rewards are substantial—fewer accidents, greater productivity, and a more pleasant, healthy working environment for all.

Essentials of an effective housekeeping program:

· Regular dirt and dust removal.

· Adequate employee facilities, such as wash rooms and locker rooms.

· Proper maintenance of walking and working surfaces.

· Maintenance of lighting fixtures.

· Attention to aisles and stairways to make sure they are kept clear.

· Spill control.

· Proper storage of tools and equipment.

· Effective waste disposal.

· Organizing and cleaning storage areas.

The maintenance of buildings and equipment may well be the most important element of good housekeeping. "Maintenance involves keeping buildings, equipment and machinery in safe, efficient working order and in good repair." This includes maintaining sanitary facilities, regularly painting and cleaning walls, and fixing broken windows, damaged doors, defective plumbing, and damaged floor surfaces.

One of the toughest jobs you face in implementing an effective workplace housekeeping program is selling employees on its benefits. But the benefits are many, so try sharing these with your workers:

· Fewer accidents and injuries.

· Fewer fire hazards.

· Fewer slip, trip, and fall hazards.

· Reduced exposure to hazardous substances.

· Improved efficiency and productivity.

· More efficient equipment cleanup and maintenance.

· Better control of tools and materials, including inventory and supplies.

· Reduced handling to ease the flow of materials.

· Better hygienic conditions leading to improved health.

· More effective use of space.

To achieve these benefits regularly, we suggest integrating housekeeping responsibilities into employees' jobs. This helps ensure that these duties are faithfully fulfilled.

An effective housekeeping program identifies and assigns responsibilities for:

· General workstation cleanup during and at the end of each shift.

· Daily housekeeping duties for the entire work area.

· Removal of scrap and unused materials.

· Proper storage of tools, materials, etc.

· Inspection to ensure housekeeping duties are completed and done properly.

Never underestimate the impact of poor housekeeping standards on health and safety performance. It is often the underlying cause of most slips, trips and falls in the workplace. Start your year by clearly defining housekeeping requirements and allocating responsibility for maintaining a clean and tidy workplace.