Despite the steady stream of new safety rules and regulations, the number of workplace deaths in the United States hasn’t decreased significantly over the past 10 years. According to Ray Prest’s article in Safety Decisions, it’s a classic example of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
It’s not like safety rules and regulations don’t make sense or are not designed to prevent serious injuries and fatalities. So what’s going on? According to Prest:
While added requirements for personal fall protection systems and new reporting rules aim to change the way people do their jobs, those people themselves still stay the same. They still have the same limitations, flaws, and biases. And they still make the same mistakes that lead to serious injuries and fatalities, regardless of what the health and safety rules say.
Although workplaces have managed to eliminate the majority of injuries caused by unsafe conditions, there is more work to be done. Once physical and regulatory problems have been tackled, companies need to turn to the next link in the chain—people.
People are not to blame for the fact that they can cause errors, even ones that can lead to injuries. Humans aren’t perfect machines and it’s important to help workers understand their limitations better and provide them with tools that can safeguard them against those limitations. As Prest says:
This means creating work environments that account for the vagaries of human workers and establishing management systems and organizational structures that learn from employees’ on-the-ground experience.
Far from ignoring rules and regulations in favor of human factors, it’s important to build on the solid base provided by those rules. Taking new approaches to human error can help mistake-prone people who are sometimes tired, rushed and frustrated and fail to adhere to regulations due to the simple fact that they are human.
If organizations understand human nature better, they will be able to improve their employees’ safety. Thankfully, safety professionals increasingly recognize the challenges linked to human error. Now they just need to address the problem with as much dedication as they have engineering regulations.
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