Science & Art: Instilling the Value of Safety in Your Workplace

Safety is an Art & ScienceMy neighbor’s 19-year-old son crashed his car last week. As he shared details about how his son was late for work and driving too fast in the rain, I recalled a similar incident when I was a young, overconfident driver. I told the father how I had gotten a new car when I turned 18, and how one winter evening in Wisconsin I lost control due to my complacent driving on icy roads. I advised him to be thankful that no one was hurt in his son’s accident and that the lesson would likely improve his driving. 

Later, I spent much time reflecting on this conversation. Both of us had been instructed in careful driving and yet we made choices contrary to that instruction.  The rules of the road are not arbitrary limitations; rather they are a science crafted after experience and countless tragedies. In retrospect I understand that I should have exercised greater care and reduced speeds. So why is it that these rules only become important after personal involvement in a near-miss? More importantly, how do we impact the human decision making process so that we can eliminate the school of hard knocks?

Regardless of regulations, human nature leads us to be as safe as we absolutely have to be – and no more. Where to draw that line is usually established based on asking ourselves, “What have I gotten away with in the past?”

Written safety programs alone do not correlate to safety performance. When dealing with critical communication such as conveying safety information it is essential that we spend the extra time to verify understanding of the material. The art of safety involves making the rules jump from the pages and instantly forging a mental picture that will last forever.  Written policy is one dimensional and rarely achieves this goal. Training has the potential to bridge this gap, but only if it is relevant and impactful.

Picture yourself sitting in a typical training setting. This might be a supervisor led small group session, online learning or a classroom environment. Which of these statements will have lasting impact?

  1. National consensus standard ASME B56.1-1993 requires that use of an operator restraint system when equipped on a powered industrial truck. Therefore, OSHA would enforce the use of such a device under Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act. [OSHA Letter of Interpretation]
  2. 9/17/2010 – Worker sustained fatal injuries after being crushed by forklift that he was operating. The forklift lost control in a skid down a hill, throwing the worker who was not wearing a seatbelt. The forklift landed on and crushed the worker. [Click here to find weekly fatality reports from OSHA]

When you read the first OSHA seat belt regulation, did you visualize the negative outcome of failing to properly wear a seat belt in a forklift? Probably not. The second OSHA regulation allows the learner to form a clear depiction of the instant the incident occurred. In adult learning it becomes vital that we attach the “why” to the “what.” Real life stories and photos are training tools that make a lasting impact. Truly effective training establishes an emotional connection that regulations and policies fail to accomplish.

Training designed to company policy or OSHA standards has a significant inherent limitation. To be valuable, training must be designed to the learner’s needs first, and then decorated with a touch of policy. This is truly a form of art that involves communicating with images rather than just words.