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Best Safety Articles of 2020

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This past year has brought an unprecedented look at some aspects of safety. But while 2020 seemed to be all about PPE and other safety issues related to COVID-19, there was also a wealth of safety writing that had nothing to do with the coronavirus.

Here are four of our favorite articles about safety from 2020. Each of these stands out for being interesting, practical-minded, and offering a new perspective on a seemingly intractable problem. If you want to catch up on the safety columns that you missed last year, these four articles are a great place to start.

What You Need to Know About Adult Learning (read it here)

Written with safety trainers and EHS professionals in mind, this article from Occupational Health & Safety magazine takes a look at why so much safety education fails to stick in people’s minds. 

Importantly, the article goes a step further than just talking about the problem. As the author, Pandora Bryce, states: “If EHS professionals want to improve the efficacy of their training sessions, they would do well to pay attention to best practices from the adult learning industry. There are several lessons that translate from educational textbooks to industrial adult learning environments like safety training.”

It outlines four areas where practical—and sometimes small—changes can lead to a huge uptick in knowledge retention:

  • training environment
  • motivation
  • social learning
  • varied learning activities (and plenty of opportunities to demonstrate new knowledge)

As the article points out, effective safety training is one of the pillars of a strong workplace safety program, and making adjustments to how you train is a key step in improving the overall level of safety knowledge among workers.

From Déjà Vu to Setting Direction: Making Use of OSHA’s Top 10 Violations List (read it here)

Every year, OSHA releases a list of the most frequent safety violations. It can feel a bit like the movie Groundhog Day, with every edition of the list looking like a carbon copy of the year prior. But as safety columnist Ray Prest argues, there’s still some value to be had in thinking about OSHA and the most likely safety incidents—but it may require a bit of imagination on your part.

In this article, Prest walks through a clever thought experiment that will help you identify potential safety issues in your workplace. Rather than take OSHA’s national compilation, this exercise will get you to build two lists that are specific to your experience. It only takes five minutes to complete, and there’s a decent chance that it will provide you with some actionable insight.

The Case for Managing Human Factors at Heights (read it here)

The other articles in this list apply to almost every workplace scenario. But even though this one focuses on working at heights, it’s still worth your time because the basic principles in it are nearly universally applicable.

In this article, Matt Hall walks through the reasoning why people continue to be injured or killed while working at heights, despite the fact that there are so many safety precautions and procedures that are (or should be) in place.  

Hall argues that these precautions and procedures tend to overlook the dangers of human factors like rushing, fatigue, complacency and others: “For people working at heights, the ability to contend with fatigue, distraction and other human factors is very often the difference between needing to rely on a fall arrest harness or not—that is, if they remembered to wear a fall harness in the first place.”

The article goes on to propose several ways to improve safety at heights by augmenting the attention paid to human factors. And if you read the article and want a deeper dive into the subject, try reviewing this free safety guide to working at heights, which focuses on the issue of human factors. 

The Safety-First Supervisors (read it here)

This isn’t actually an article but a full-blown guide on how to get frontline supervisors to play a larger role in safety. But in a way, it’s actually like a few different articles all rolled together. 

It begins by reviewing the important and unavoidable role that on-the-ground leaders play in workplace safety. The guide notes: “When injuries are spiking and workers are disregarding basic safety protocols, it’s almost certain that there’s a breakdown in communication between supervisors and employees. And when the injury rate is low and workers are avoiding at-risk behavior? You can be sure that a group of supervisors are doing their part to get these results.”

So if supervisors are going to impact safety outcomes one way or another, then you might as well do your best to ensure they’re having a positive effect on safety. The guide goes on to outline the six ways that frontline leaders can tangibly alter their crew’s safety behaviors and then goes into detail about how to make strides in each of those six areas.

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