All the comforts of home can be deceiving.

Ask employees, “How many of you have been to a funeral for someone who was killed in a motor vehicle accident?” About 80 percent to 90 percent usually will put up their hands. Now ask, “How many of you know someone personally who’s been killed in a workplace incident, not just here, but anyplace you have worked?” Fifty percent to 70 percent of the hands will drop.

As most of you know, statistically the risks at home versus the workplace are seven times higher for dying accidentally away from work and twice as high for experiencing a disabling injury. Add it all up, and the risk of dying accidentally is 17 to 27 times higher off the job than on.

So how often do we talk about home safety? No wonder workers get turned off to workplace safety messaging. “It’s your safety we care about, your safety is our No.1 priority, etc., etc.” Their greatest risks are not in the workplace. We over-emphasize our concerns and under-emphasize their concerns. If you want workers to buy in to your safety program, give them safety training on their terms, not just yours.

The cost of ignorance

Lack of concern for off-the-job safety is cavalier at some workplaces — “Who cares, it’s not our responsibility” — and curiously quizzical at others — “We don’t track that sort of thing.” Some won’t even take a blind stab at guessing their off-the-job injury rate.

Since most large corporations are self-insured, it’s not that big a deal to get this information. You should care, not only from a humanitarian point of view, but from a financial perspective. All injuries that require medical treatment cost money. The average cost per American is approximately $2,000 a year or $5,100 a family. One in 12 Americans will need medical treatment for an injury (versus an illness) every year. So off-the-job injuries are costing your company a whack of cash, but nobody’s talking about that either. In most cases, disability claims management isn’t part of the safety department.

Searching for solutions

What’s the answer? It could be something like teaching employees how to train their families on job safety analysis or pre-task risk assessment, but it’s unlikely anyone will have much success with that. How about getting workers to use a behavior-based safety approach with their spouses and kids? (“Honey, would you like me to give you a little feedback on your at-risk behavior while you were making dinner tonight?”) Could happen, but so far it’s never been done (at least not by anyone who’s still married). Most at-home risks are mundane and “low-tech” — loss of balance, traction or grip, things like that. In fact, for all of the exotic hazards we have in the workplace, most workplace injuries are very low-tech as well. Slips and falls usually rank as the number one or two cause of recordable injuries at most sites.

Don’t underestimate the seriousness of low-tech injuries. Statistically, they are among the most lethal — falling asleep at the wheel is estimated to cause 25 percent of the fatal motor vehicle collisions. “Low-risk” injuries (didn’t see it, wasn’t thinking about it, lost my balance, etc.) happen all the time. In most cases, they don’t stem from a lack of knowledge. We all know that red means stop, green means go and yellow means caution. But if we didn’t see the light, we didn’t stop. The problem is keeping hazards in mind and in sight.

Error of our ways

Four critical errors increase the likelihood of contacting some hazardous energy, or having that hazardous energy contact you. The first two have been mentioned already: eyes not on task and mind not on task. These usually set up the second two, which are: moving into (or being in) the line of fire, and losing your balance, traction or grip. Over 90 percent of all serious acute injuries on or off the job, excluding contact sports, involve these four critical errors.

Surely, it ought to be easy enough to hone in on these four errors, teach people about them, and reduce the number of injuries these errors cause. It is easy, but it’s not quite that simple. Critical errors are a subset of all the errors and mistakes we make. Since none of them are intentional (we are never trying to make any mistakes), we have to be willing to tackle all human error head on.

Look at what causes people to make mistakes. At first glance, this may seem like a daunting task. But only a small percentage of our total mistakes will actually get us hurt or increase the risk of injury. Extreme joy, extreme sorrow and panic cause people to make mistakes, but these states of mind are not very common. Rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency also lead to mistakes and occur every day. They are not limited to the workplace or workday. And they can’t be whisked away with platitudes like “Our work is never so urgent or important that we cannot take the time to do it safely.”

Here’s the key. We’re usually in a rush, tired, frustrated or complacent for a period of time before we make an error. If people learn to notice that they’re in one of these states, they would be much less likely to make an injury-causing error — anywhere, anytime, on or off the job. In all, there are four Critical Error Reduction Techniques (CERT) that people need to learn:

1 Self-trigger on the state (rushing, fatigue, frustration, complacency, or amount of hazardous energy) so you don’t make a critical error.
2 Analyze close calls and small errors (to prevent agonizing over big ones).
3 Look at others for patterns that increase the risk of injury.
4 Work on habits.

Training for these skills is different than teaching about a hazard or how to read a label/MSDS. Skills require practice or repetition. Since skills are acquired over time, it’s best to spread this type of training out over a period of time (five to ten weeks).

But once workers learn these skills, they can apply them at work, at home and on the highway. Simple, efficient and free — now that’s safety training anybody would appreciate.