Tools That Supervisors Can Use To Identify The Hazards
There are several effective tools supervisors can use to help them identify and correct hazards including, observations, inspections, job hazard analyses (JHA), and incident/accident investigations.
Observation is important because it can be a great tool to effectively identify behaviors that directly account for the greatest percentage of all workplace injuries. It’s better than other tools that we will discuss because observation focuses on discovering unsafe behaviors rather than hazardous conditions. There are two types of observation:
Informal observation. An informal observation process is nothing more than being watchful for hazards and unsafe behaviors throughout the work shift. No special procedure is involved. All employees should be expected to look over their work areas once in a while.
Formal observation program. One of the most effective proactive methods to collect useful data about the hazards and unsafe behaviors in your workplace is the formal observation program because it includes a written plan and procedures.
For example, safety committee members or other employees may be assigned to complete a minimum number of observations of safe/unsafe behaviors during a given period of time. Here is what can be done with the data gathered:
- This data is gathered and analyzed to produce graphs and charts reflecting the current status and trends in employee behaviors.
- Posting the results of these observations tends to increase awareness and lower injury rates.
- The data also gives valuable clues about safety management system weaknesses.
Note: An important policy for successful formal observation procedures is that they are not, in any way, linked to discipline. Observers should not discipline or “snitch” on employees. Discipline should never be a consequence of an observation. To do so ensures any observation program will fail as an accurate fact-finding tool. Follow these best practices:
- Use only employees who do not have authority to discipline as observers in the program.
- If managers or supervisors participate, make sure they do not observe in their own areas of responsibility.
- Make sure everyone understands the policy regarding “no discipline” as a consequence of an observation.
- It is also important for observers to express appreciation when safe behaviors are observed, and remind or warn employees to use safe practices if they are not performing a task safely.
Conduct Safety Inspections
Another important activity to ensure a safe work area is to conduct an effective walkaround safety inspection. To be most effective, it makes sense that the safety inspection responsibility be delegated to the supervisor. Who is better positioned to effectively identify and correct workplace hazards? Remember, as an agent of the employer, the basic responsibility to inspect the work area should rest with supervisors.
During the inspection, look for hazards in the five MEEPS categories. In some instances, using an inspection checklist may be a good idea to make sure a systematic procedure is used. The only downside from using a checklist regards the “tunnel vision” syndrome: hazards not addressed on the checklist may be overlooked. Another problem is that inspectors may be looking only for “conditions” and ignoring “behaviors.” Check for both when inspecting.
Make everyone an inspector. Supervisors should not be the only persons inspecting for safety in the work area. Everyone should be an inspector. But how does the supervisor get employees to willingly inspect for safety every day? Simple, supervisors set the example by inspecting regularly, they insist that everyone inspects, and they recognize (thank) their workers for inspecting and reporting hazards.
Perform Job Hazard Analyses (JHA)
Another effective activity to ensure a safe and healthful workplace is the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). This process is also called a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) In the JHA process, supervisors and employees together analyze each step of a particular task and come up with ways to make it safer.
Why the JHA?
The Problem: Unfortunately, the walkaround inspection is usually just an assessment. It merely attempts to determine if a hazard is present or not. It’s conducted by one or two persons who walk around looking high and low to uncover hazardous conditions (We call this the “rolling eyeball syndrome”). If properly trained, they may effectively uncover hazards. If properly trained they may know how to effectively question employees during the inspection (they ask questions other than “any safety complaints?”). The most serious weakness inherent in the safety inspection process is that very little time is devoted to analyzing any one particular work area. For more information on conducting a JHA, see course 706 Job Hazard Analysis.
Investigate Incidents and Accidents
Another important responsibility of the supervisor is to investigate near-miss incidents and injury accidents. Although incident/accident investigations are “reactive” because they occur after the near-miss or injury event, they may still be quite effective by identifying hazards and preventing future injuries.
Make sure employees report near-misses: It’s a proven fact investigating near-miss incidents is effective for a number of reasons.
Investigating incidents is always less expensive than investigating accidents because an injury or illness has not occurred.
Accident investigation – Safety triage: Accident investigations that occur after someone is injured are still very important if the primary purpose is to uncover root causes.
Fix the system: not the blame: It is never appropriate to conduct accident investigations to place blame: to do so is basically a waste of time and will harm the safety management system in the long term. Discipline should be administered only after it can be shown that no safety management system components somehow contributed to the accident.
Investigate all accidents: Although OSHA requires the employer to investigate only serious injury accidents, it’s important to investigate even minor accidents because, what might be today’s cut finger, might be tomorrow’s amputated hand. It’s that simple.
The Incident/Accident Investigation Process
Accident investigation is a seven-step process with the ultimate goal of conducting accident investigations.
1. Secure the scene – to make sure evidence is not moved or disappears.
2. Document the scene – to gather data about the scene.
3. Conduct interviews – to determine events that led up to and included the accident event.
4. Develop the sequence of events – to determine exactly what happened in the proper sequence.
5. Conduct cause analysis – to determine surface and root causes associated with each event.
6. Determine the solutions – to develop immediate corrective actions and long-term safety management system fixes. Discipline is not a long-term solution.
7. Write the report – that emphasizes events, causes, solutions, costs, and benefits. Do not recommend discipline. That should be the job of a safety professional and the human resources department after careful analysis of the accident report.
Get to The Root Causes
Whenever hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors are discovered through observations, inspections, JHAs, or investigations, it’s important to determine their root causes.
A hazard, unsafe behavior, near-miss, or injury may be the result of many factors that have interacted in some dynamic way. When conducting hazard analyses or incident/accident investigations, be sure to include each of the following levels of analysis to make sure you uncover the root causes:
Injury analysis – How did the injury occur? At this level of analysis, we focus on trying to determine the direct cause of the injury that may or did occur. Examples of the direct causes of injury include:
- strain due to lifting heavy objects
- concussion from impact forces due to a fall
- tissue damage from contact with a toxic chemical
- burns from exposure to flammable materials
Surface Cause Analysis – Why did the accident occur? Here you determine the unique hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors that interacted to produce the accident. Each of the hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors uncovered are the surface causes for the accident. They give clues that point to possible root causes/system weaknesses. Examples of surface causes include:
- broken ladder
- worker removes a machine guard
- supervisor fails to conduct a safety inspection
- defective tool
Root cause analysis – Why did the surface causes occur? At this level, you’re analyzing the weaknesses in the safety management system that contributed to the accident. These weaknesses are inadequate/missing safety components such as policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures, or practices. Examples of root causes include:
- inadequate or missing safety management system components
- inadequate performance or failure to carry out system components such as: failure to train, failure to provide PPE, and inadequate implementation of safe procedures
- failure to enforce safety rules, discipline for safety infractions or recognize safe performance
- failure to conduct safety inspections, JHAs, and incident/accident investigations