During a recent safety training session the subject of famous last words came up. The favorite last words turned out to be, “Hey! Watch this!” We can all imagine any number of ways that this ends with someone getting hurt. In fact, television shows, social media sites, and the internet in general are full of bad endings. Usually we smile and wonder, “What were they thinking?!” Unfortunately, the reality of a workplace injury isn’t funny and it ends up costing everyone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there were over 2.9 million private industry recordable injuries.
We all have an inner voice that says, “This could go badly!” right before we do something unsafe. It is the same voice that says, “Told you so!” when things do go wrong. For some this voice is loud and demanding. For others it is timid, barely heard and seldom listened to. We all have it; whether we choose to listen to it or not is our choice. However, safety culture also plays a significant role in determining how often this voice is heard.
Think of this inner voice as your built-in self-preservation device. It is there to keep you safe and requires attention. There are many reasons why this voice is brushed off. But employers have an obligation to provide workplaces where employees are encouraged, or better yet required, to act responsibly and safely in all aspects of their jobs. Listening to the inner voice becomes much easier when the organizational culture supports safety at all levels and asks for employee input.
For example: what if you had to walk across an icy parking lot to enter your workplace? Your inner voice has let you know that you might fall. What do you do?
- Walk across it as you do every day and just hope for the best?
- Call for assistance?
- Park closer to the entrance to limit the exposure to the ice?
- Put on those ice cleats that you were issued?
- Spread some sand on the walkways as you enter?
If option A is chosen, the opportunity to act safely and reduce or eliminate the risk has been missed. In this single situation we may have made it across the parking lot, but understand that the likelihood of injury is directly related to how often we choose to listen before acting.
Crossing an icy parking lot is one of many unsafe acts that occur with regularity. Here are some other choices people make that affect their safety:
- Lifting a heavy object
- Wearing footwear that is not slip-resistant
- Leaving a trip hazard or a spill on the floor
- Driving too fast for the road conditions
- Using a cell phone while driving
If we choose to regularly ignore our inner voice, eventually we will be hurt. The more we listen to, and act on, what our inner voice is saying, the less likely we are to be injured. It takes practice and deliberate action to improve our safety in everyday situations, but the good news is that the more we listen to our inner voice, the louder it gets and the easier it is to follow it. A supportive safety culture also makes it easier to do the right thing.
Thankfully our inner voice is with us everywhere. Whether it is at work, at home, or while driving, it is there and needs to be listened to. If you are a supervisor make sure you are listening to your inner voice, but also make sure that you are allowing your employees to do the same. If production ends up having the loudest “voice” then safety voices can be drowned out.
If you are looking for ways to improve workplace safety, give every employee a voice in the matter. Dan Petersen is featured in an EHS Today piece entitled “Dan Petersen: Why Safety is a People Problem.” Check it out; it might help you better understand the importance of personal responsibility and how organizational cultures can either improve or hinder employee safety.
Listen to your voice, and encourage your coworkers do the same!