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Introducing Flexibility to Workplace Safety

Risk displayed in a yellow safety warning sign

Risk is never static. Throughout the workday, it rises and falls based on a variety of factors, from environmental considerations like the weather to personal issues like frustration and complacency. This raises a serious question for safety managers: how do you properly deal with the risk of injury if it’s constantly changing?

This isn’t a new problem—a few safety vendors have argued this very point for years. More recently, in an article titled “Building flexibility into safety program management”, Warren Picken provides three concrete steps that EHS professionals can take to account for the shifting nature of risk.

Warren suggests that education is the most effective bulwark against workplace injury. Specifically, employees need to understand that risk levels can fluctuate from one minute to the next. Workers should also be taught to recognize the risk-influencing factors that are within their control. By training employees to recognize the dangerous effects of fatigue, for example, and educating them on the steps they can take to mitigate it, the likelihood of injury can be reduced.

Of course, education is only one part of the puzzle. Warren goes on to argue that real-time awareness is necessary to put education into practice. He says that “awareness is a skill—it improves with deliberate practice and atrophies when not used for a period of time.” As such, safety professionals need to provide training to develop awareness skills that will help workers notice when they are at a greater risk of getting hurt.

Finally, it’s important for managers and supervisors to provide ongoing support to employees. Regular check-ins, positive interventions and conversations that empower workers will go a long way to solidifying education and awareness skills.

It’s not always easy to account for the up-and-down nature of risk. However, the effort in providing education, awareness and support will allow workers to be as flexible and dynamic as risk is.

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