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Communicating Safety in work and non-work environments

Release Date

09 October 2014

Ken Golden, lead safety trainer at Australian Business Training Solutions, talks us through the benefits of getting the team to think about safety as a life enhancer and not a work or job requirement.
The two heads of Safety: Different rules for work and non-work environments

People often have two different heads when it comes to how they understand, communicate and execute safe behaviours. These different applications are often dependent on the context of behaviours and change between work and non-work environments.

  1. While at work generally a very clear message about safety is communicated. Work health and safety is held in high regard and we follow the rules and understand the importance of working safely.
  2. When in a non-work environment we often apply a different standard to our safety rules. We leave our safety head at work and often become more laidback. While general safety rules are well communicated and understood within society, we don’t hold to these as strictly as we would at work; take speeding or texting while driving for example.

It is important safety is communicated and implemented as all-encompassing, as opposed to only a work requirement. A single set of safety standards should be integrated across our personal behaviours to consolidate our views about safety in both work and non-work environments.
Prioritising tasks to minimise the risk of incidents

Despite these two heads of safety, incidents still occur when at work. While we generally hold WHS in high regard, we only think through the consequences of our behaviours after an incident occurs. We often investigate the cause of the incident in a way that assumes the worker disregarded WHS, which is often not the case. While workers don’t usually set out to hurt themselves, often a lack of forward thinking and an inability to effectively prioritise tasks can leads to incidents occurring.

Case example

A supervisor directs a factory worker to pick orders for the day, keeping in mind the picking rates are 20 orders per 15 minutes and the implied task of working safely while completing this task. The factory worker has an incident. Consider what the worker was thinking at the time of the incident.

  1. I have to pick 20 orders per 15 minutes to meet my quota
  2. Where are the items
  3. What is next on the list
  4. How is my time going am I on target
  5. Work safely

While the worker fully intends to carry out tasks in a safe manner, following procedures and safety requirements, there is a mental conflict with this task. The worker wants to continue to meet targets while working safely, but there are several other competing mental demands going on at the same time, and when prioritising tasks safety often comes last.

The opportunity for an incident arises and is increased by the misunderstanding of the priorities of the assigned and implied tasks. When assigning tasks as a supervisor, or prioritising tasks as a worker, safety must always be considered. After prioritising tasks, it is important to understand the resources required for each task and minimise any risks involved.
By integrating safety as an all-encompassing behaviour, incidents can be avoided. Humans like to live in the moment and we rarely think about life tomorrow or at retirement and maybe we should.

Case example

  • Think noise. You say to your child that their iPod is too loud and it will damage their hearing.
  • Child response – nope don’t believe you because see I took them out and I can hear fine.
  • The issue here is that damage is long term and not identified until late 40s or early 50s when it is too late.
If however I hit my thumb with a hammer while nailing a picture up – ouch!! The pain is immediately evident and I learn very quickly not to do that again. Therefore if I do unsafe acts and there is no immediate consequence then I continue to do the unsafe act (loud music) and one day I may get hurt or suffer then I may change what I am doing. Again, the lack of forward thinking in this instance leads to a long term issue.

Safety values must be communicated and consolidated across both work and non-work environments to teach employees that every moment is vital; doing an unsafe act or not thinking safe will eventually cause us to get hurt or worse.

With over 30 years’ experience in safety and training, Ken expertly designs, develops and delivers public and in-house courses across: Work Health & Safety Management Systems development, implementation and audits; Work Health & Safety inspections; Incident investigation; Safety Advisor and Safety Manager mentoring.

Ken Golden  
Lead Safety Trainer with Australian Business Training Solutions  

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