The failure of employees to recognise hazards and risks as they go about their daily duties is often identified during incident investigations. Frustration grows that seemingly obvious hazards and risks are not noticed and therefore no action taken to mitigate them.
I recently participated in a hazard and risk perception exercise. The first part of the exercise was called “A trip to the zoo” and posed the question, “If asked, would you feed the crocodiles by placing lumps of raw meat in their mouths with your hands?” There was a picture of the crocodile to make the nature of the task really clear…
This question was typically met with the odd piece of bravado but generally a very loud and clear “no!”. When asked why, the answers were broadly consistent; “It’s obviously dangerous” “you could really get hurt” “everyone knows crocodiles are killers” and “why would you ask such a dumb question?”
The message seemed crystal clear, these hazards and risks are obvious!
So onto Part 2 of the exercise, which was called “A trip to work”. The crocodile and raw meat were replaced by an employee at work in a production area of a factory. The question was asked “Would you agree to reach into the machinery with your hand and clear a blockage?” Again there was a picture to identify the required task.
So were the hazards and risk so obvious this time?
Surprisingly the responses were much more varied. There were those who got the point immediately. Reaching into an unguarded machine, which had not been isolated from its various sources of energy, was not smart. These answers were along the lines of “no way, you could really get hurt” “I have seen pictures of what those machines can do” and “that’s just as bad as the crocodile”.
Those were not the majority of answers though. Some people commented that if they were quick they could get the job done without any problems, others mentioned that they had often done the job that way and that it wasn’t a problem.
Some people were just unclear as to what the machine was, what it was meant to do and what it could do if poorly managed. The responses were diverse but, with a short debate, the connection was quickly made that different individuals would have very different views regarding what appeared to be unsafe and/or a risk not worth taking.
Key points the exercise raised were:
Addressing this last point is essential for future success. The absence of incidents, i.e. no crocodile bites, is not the same as the presence of a safe workplace, i.e. crocodiles fed remotely from a safe distance, with no risk of being bitten!
We know that the behaviours in our businesses are shaped by people, task and organisational factors. Organisational factors are the most influential in creating and sustaining change and have strong Leadership and Management Commitment at their core. Even when we think about a subject such as hazard and risk perception, which seems very much about the individual, the overall influence of the Leadership behaviours must be understood.
Organisational factors will address the senior leadership approach to managing risk. They will create day-to-day high levels of confidence that all employees can recognise hazard and risk and challenge it in appropriate way. The behaviour of the Leadership group will give confidence to the workforce, that work can be stopped if there is uncertainty about doing it safely.
So next time somebody misses the “obvious” how will you respond?
If you would like to discuss these issues further please get in touch.
+44 (0) 1664 503655