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3 Off-the-Job Safety Issues You Need to Be Aware of in September

Woman experiencing pain or a problem while driving

September is a time when people think of new beginnings because it often marks a time of change. Summer is over, the days are getting shorter, school is back in session and training often gears up at work. 

Our September toolbox talks topic post featured National Preparedness Month, National Food Safety Education Month, National Concussion Awareness Day, National Recovery Month and Suicide Prevention Day as topics to generate a safety talk. But it’s important to talk about off-the-job topics in the workplace as well.

Pain Awareness Month

September is Pain Awareness Month. On the job, pain management is often thought of in terms of a return-to-work process that is implemented after a lost-time injury happens. But pain doesn’t only affect you on the job from work-related incidents. More than 20% of Americans have chronic pain. This type of pain can be consistent or sporadic, and regardless of what caused it, chronic pain will affect workers during their lives at work, at home and while driving.

But it’s not just chronic pain that you need to worry about for workers. Eight out of ten people will have back pain at some point in their lives. Burns, cuts, contusions and countless sprains and strains are another source of pain, and headaches or migraines triggered by stress and fatigue can be distracting if not debilitating. All these sources of pain (and countless others) can negatively impact worker health, well-being, happiness and the ability to perform work effectively and safely. Pain can cause people to deviate from their normal routines and take shortcuts, modify processes, and make decisions that compromise safety in ways that could produce additional or more severe injuries if people aren’t managing it effectively.

People often continue working through pain due to complacency or the need to earn a paycheck, which can do further damage to their bodies. It is critical to train people on the ergonomic dangers of overexertion, repetitive work and improper body positions before they experience chronic pain—both on and off the job. They should also think about the ergonomics of driving. The training must provide practical habits and techniques that can be applied 24/7 to avoid sprains, strains and repetitive stress injuries and stave off the inevitable complacency that will compromise the tools and training they learned at work.

Situational Awareness Day

Some pain can come from not paying attention to what you’re doing, resulting in an injury. September 26 has been National Situational Awareness Day since 2016. The purpose is to pay attention to your surroundings to improve personal safety. SafeStart puts a strong focus on off-the-job safety for this very reason—while your attention is drawn to safety all day every day at work, there isn’t anyone directing your attention to safety off the job, which causes people to let their guard down.

Pretty Loaded, the enterprise responsible for making National Situational Awareness a recognized day, suggests focusing on the following to avoid specific risks:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
  • Be in a general relaxed state of alertness with no specific focal point. You are not looking for anything or anyone in particular; you simply have your head up and your eyes open. You are difficult to surprise, so therefore, you are difficult to harm.
  • Look for anything that seems out of the ordinary.
  • Watch people’s eyes, hands and body language.
  • Look for anything hazardous like a pothole, moving cars, loose boards on a deck, people walking with guns, etc…
  • Pay attention to 30–50 feet all around you since you will have enough time to move and get away if you need to.

While a lot of situational awareness training pertains to predatory threats and intentional harm, many of the techniques apply equally to unintentional hazards found more frequently at work and at home. Because it can be more difficult to maintain situational awareness in familiar places with less obvious threats to your personal safety, SafeStart recommends more universal safety-related habits to help avoid injury when complacency sets in. When you’re not thinking about risks off the job, it’s important to know that your habits will kick in to keep you safe. These habits include:

  • Move your eyes before you move your hands, feet, body or car.
  • Test your footing before you commit your weight.
  • Look for things that could cause you to lose your balance, traction or grip.
  • Look for line-of-fire potential before moving.

Situational awareness is often challenged by task switching—when you’re deeply engrossed in a task, e.g., assembling small parts, it can be hard to maintain constant awareness of your surroundings. Then, transitioning to a different task in another location demands cognitive shifts when one’s cognitive load is already high, making it hard to pay attention to everything around you. Similarly, when you’re on the move, a sudden distraction can make you oblivious to other aspects of the environment, especially when rushed, tired, or frustrated. Emphasize that everyone needs to establish and practice multiple habits that can be used quickly and automatically as their situations change.

Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week

Car crashes are a leading cause of death among children, which makes Child Passenger Safety Week (September 17–23, 2023) a great time to remind employees about the importance of making sure children are safe when they’re riding in vehicles.

The National Safety Council (NSC) identifies the three most common risks that child passengers face: improperly used or installed safety seats, overheated cars, and teen drivers. Use these three points as your starting point for addressing child passenger safety.

Improperly used/installed car seats

According to the NHTSA, “While most parents and caregivers are confident that they have correctly installed their child’s car seat, almost half (46%), have been installed incorrectly.” Many police and fire stations have someone on staff who has been trained and certified to properly install your car seat and educate on child restraints and safety. If they don’t, it’s a good idea not to try to figure it out on your own. Seek out a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) to check your car seat installation—it could save a life!

Car seats are often used incorrectly too. In the winter, a child’s winter jacket or snowsuit needs to be removed before buckling their harness. The puffiness of the jacket creates a dangerous space between their body and the harness restraint, which means they could be ejected from the car seat in the event of a crash. It’s also important to know the height and weight limits of the car seat. The safety features of the car seat can only work if your child is within the limits set out by the manufacturer.

Overheated cars

On the flip side, summer can also be a dangerous month for car seats. Rear-facing car seats can increase the risk of the child being forgotten in the car, and in the summer they can quickly overheat—known as fatal distraction. Also called Forgotten Baby Syndrome, a child is often left in their car seat (with fatal outcomes in both summer and winter months) when there’s a change in routine. For example, if the baby is usually driven to daycare by someone else and you have to fill in for the day, you’re more likely to go on autopilot with your normal drive to work and forget to drop the child off (especially if they’re quiet or fell asleep). While most people think that this can’t happen to them, it happens more often than you think—an annual average of 39 children die from being left in their car seats.

Teen driving

Even though parents usually worry when their teens begin to drive, that doesn’t always mean parents are talking to their teen drivers about the risks. This post on safety conversations with teenagers can help with talking to your teen in general. It can be hard to broach certain subjects but it’s important that they hear from their parents. Check out our driving awareness toolkit, which has a ton of free resources that can be used as a toolbox talk or printed resources to share with your employees.

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