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Determining 2016 Safety Priorities

Top priorities on a blackboard

What were your safety priorities in 2015? Obviously there were the traditional things you had to do to achieve and maintain compliance with regulations, but we all know that even with that box checked off there are so many other items on the injury prevention priority list:

  • preventing slips, trips and falls
  • reducing sprains, strains and back injuries
  • protecting against serious injuries and fatalities
  • improving employee engagement and personal accountability
  • increasing compliance with PPE and procedures
  • dealing with distraction (walking or driving)
  • addressing off-the-job injuries

Given the exhausting amount of time needed to meet the required aspects of your job day-to-day, did you manage to put a checkmark beside any of these additional items? Very few of us can answer “yes” with confidence. That’s because if we manage to corral one problem, as soon as we turn to deal with the next item on the list the first problem seems to creep back again.

There are all sorts of reasons this happens, from limited resources to not enough time in the day. But at the core of the issue there are two main problems.

The first problem is the list of priorities itself.  Typically, when a safety professional sits down to craft a list of priorities, every issues seems important so it all goes on the list until suddenly there’s a sprawling catalogue of safety problems. Not only are these multi-page lists of priorities too big to be actionable, but it doesn’t even make sense to call them a list of priorities. The definition of the word “priority” is, as Oxford Dictionaries puts it, “A thing that is regarded as more important than others.” It’s a question of what comes first—and if you have more than one priority you’re fooling yourself into thinking you can effectively divide your attention.

And that leads us to the second problem: limited attention. Humans are most effective when they concentrate on only one thing at a time. When we divide our time between multiple problems, we end up solving nothing, taking much longer to complete them or cutting corners on quality.

In 2016 it makes more sense to pick the one safety issue that will provide the greatest results. So instead of asking yourself whether you’re going to deal with PPE compliance or improving employee engagement and personal accountability, think about whether there is a single factor that contributes to multiple challenges.

Take a second look at the list above or your own lineup. It’s easy to identify the two main components to each:

  • physical factors (eliminating/controlling hazards, engineering solutions, etc.)
  • human factors (knowledge, awareness, behaviors, skills, motivation, etc.)

With physical factors each item on the list will require a unique solution—there’s nothing common there.

But human factors apply to the whole list.

Take one more look at the list with a human factors precursor in mind:


When you consider this graphic you can easily see that if you focus on resolving the common pattern instead of trying to resolve each item resulting from the pattern you’ll be much further ahead.

If you teach people how to pay attention to risk—even when they’re in a rush or tired—they can focus on safety regardless of the task at hand. Find a way to effectively address human factors and you’ll check more things off your list more quickly than focusing on one or two at a time.

Your 2016 safety priorities list should begin and end with human factors. Start investigating how to improve employee awareness and give them the skills they need to combat human error. Spend the last few weeks of 2015 learning more about human factors safety training by reading up on the topic and most importantly, making it your safety priority for 2016.

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Using a Human Factors Framework for Safety and Operational Excellence

It can be hard to see the connection between safety, productivity, human factors and organizational systems. This webinar will demonstrate how a human factors framework can impact all areas of an organization, linking individual worker safety and organizational systems and provide an outline that allows leadership to manage safety-focused change.

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