Thought Leadership

Safety warnings – The severity of the outcome

January 28, 2014
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Originally posted on Caterpillar Safety Service’s Safety Culture WORLD blog and reposted here with Caterpillar’s permission.

It seems that many of the safety warnings in our workplaces minimize the potential seriousness of an incident related to the warning signage or JSA document.  This downplayed evaluation of such dangers gives employees a false sense of security and reduces their personal risk awareness and caution. 

  • Pinch points are more often crush points or potentially fatal crush areas. 
  • Hot water is not the same temperature as bath water.  Water that is 150°F or above will scald and can potentially kill those who come in contact with it.
  • Gas warning signs do not adequately portray the danger of toxic fume inhalation or the fatal effect when flammable gases are ignited.
  • Fall protection signs do not convey the high probability of permanent disability or death from falls as short as four feet.
  • High visibility clothing and spotters do not sufficiently reduce the risk of death by crushing.
  • High voltage warning signs do not fully communicate the severity of the risk of electrocution.
  • Confined space warnings do not portray the numerous deaths which have occurred as a result of this work area danger.
  • The warning of a potential trench collapse fails to represent the number of deaths by suffocation that occur every year from this very real danger.

My guess is that many of you can add to this list of workplace dangers that are not described to the full magnitude of their potentially tragic consequences.  This abbreviated description can cause employees to let their guard down and expose themselves to dangerous safety risks. 

How do you combat this? 

Warning signs, safety videos, and computer programmed safety training do not adequately educate employees on the potential safety dangers indicated by warning signage.  A far more effective technique is front-line training by individuals who have been or are currently exposed to the safety dangers.

There is also value in learning from individuals who have experienced safety-related tragedies first-hand.

 For many of the above risks, an impactful story would heighten awareness and decrease the risk tolerance of those who face such workplace dangers. 

I once worked with a mining company that constructed a list of Fatal Risk Protocols. Each year, every employee received extensive training in 11 underground issues that had time and again led to fatalities.

The concept of this training reflects “Stop and Think”: what could happen, and how severe are the consequences? 

What safety risks exist in your workplace, and how can you effectively communicate the severity of the outcome?

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