The Bright Side of Safety Observations
The Shady Side: Unsafe ObservationsOrganizations often times rely too heavily on unsafe worksite observations, and then misuse the data collected through safety inspections or behavior-based systems.
For Example: Your staffing company's safety observation process only collects unsafe observations. After digging into past data, you discover one crew has five unsafe observations in ladder use and another crew has no unsafe observations in ladder use. Assuming both did similar work, which crew was safer? Your first inclination is to claim the crew with no unsafe observations. However, you're assuming both crews were observed.
The absence of unsafe observations could easily be attributed to not observing a crew at all. Instead, staffing companies should strive to record safe observations which will prove that an observation did in fact take place. We've traditionally found there are more safe observations than unsafe with a common ratio of 36:1. By using representative sampling, collecting both observations can provide you with a ratio of safe vs. unsafe. For example, would you be more concerned about a ratio of 50% unsafe or 2% unsafe in electrical?
The Sunny Side: Safe ObservationsBesides the obvious advantage of recording who was observed, what was observed and the location, safe observations also provide you with the following.
- By actually counting a representative amount of safety observations, and not just checking a box for the entire project, you can determine the context of your findings. For example, you find three unsafe observations for failure to use safety glasses. Now, if there were only three workers observed, then this is significant. If there were 300 other workers who were wearing safety glasses, then the gravity of the findings is diminished.
- Safe observations allow for positive employee feedback. The idea is to move away from the safety cop mentality of busting workers for safety violations.
- Only through safe observations can you measure improvement. Let's say you had a large number of unsafe observations for a certain hazard and implemented an action plan to address it. How would you know it got better? Keep in mind that an absence of unsafe observations could mean nobody is looking! An improved ratio of safe vs. unsafe should support an improvement in the targeted, specific safety process you were concerned about.
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