Recent data shows that frontline workers are among those most at risk for workplace injuries and illnesses. Exposure to harmful substances or environments (including contagious diseases such as COVID-19) is the #1 leading cause of injuries and illnesses resulting in employees taking days away from work.
Overexertion (e.g., lifting, pushing, pulling, holding or carrying objects) and bodily reactions have long been the leading cause of work-related injuries and illnesses, with employees in transportation and warehousing most at risk. Slips, trips and falls are ranked as the #3 cause of workplace injuries with transportation, warehouse and agriculture workers most at risk.
These top three causes account for more than 75% of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses. For the second installment of our National Safety Month series, let’s consider how employers can prevent workplace injuries for frontline workers.
While there are policies and procedures in place for action after an injury or accident, organizations must also be proactive to help prevent incidents before they start. Here are three principles to help prevent workplace injuries for frontline workers:
2, IMPROVE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Regulatory compliance and standard operating procedures are powerless if people don’t react when it’s necessary. This means developing and fostering situational awareness is crucial. Rajni Walia, an executive for DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability, defines situational awareness as being mindful of changes in exposures as they occur.
Increasing situational awareness among your employees requires specialized training and education. Getting workers accustomed to identifying hazards, understanding what actions to take and knowing where to find needed equipment should be top priorities for employee training.
Trainers may consider using the OODA Loop technique—a four-step approach to decision-making that focuses on filtering available information, putting it in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision with the understanding that changes can be made as more data becomes available:
- Observe – identify the hazard or threat
- Orient – recall what hazard controls are available
- Decide – specifically which hazard controls to use
- Act – taking the appropriate action
Another important concept to integrate into employee training is the “what if” strategy, which involves identifying common situations that could prove hazardous and then considering ways to prevent or properly react to them. Enacting real-time simulations allows workers to practice experiencing and responding to various situations and strengthen their decision-making skills, equipping them to effectively handle those situations when it matters most.
2. COMBAT COMPLACENCY
Complacency in the workplace, particularly for frontline workers, can have dire consequences. When employees let their guard down, lose focus or fail to look for hazards, the chances for injury dramatically increase. And being in a state of complacency, or “autopilot” mode, can lead to unsafe actions.
All too often, the standard for success is merely not getting hurt, which implies that doing any tasks that do not result in injury must be safe. This mentality desensitizes employees to the risks associated with a job or task.
Leaders can combat complacency by keeping these issues and risks in front of their employees. Evaluating incidents such as close calls and near misses is crucial, as these incidents will reveal the warning signs of complacency. Employers should investigate their safety successes just as vigorously as their failures.
Empowering employees with the authority to stop work if they consider it unsafe is a key strategy to guard against complacency. Leadership should reinforce this by example and grant their employees the freedom to speak up at any time they feel work is unsafe.
3. GET CREATIVE WITH COMMUNICATIONS
Frontline workers are used to seeing posters, signs and checklists on the walls at their workplace. But after a few times, they may not pay close attention to safety messages. At a time when people are constantly intaking information throughout their day—through cell phone notifications, road signs and billboards before they even get to work—leadership must be creative in communicating safety messaging and making it stick.
Leaders may consider rotating signage to different areas in the workplace and changing the wording frequently. Adding safety messages to the inside of bathroom stall doors can also be an effective method.
Staying informed about industry news and incidents is a great way to simulate how your organization would handle safety-related situations. Leaders can adapt news articles to one-page documents outlining the situation and key preventative measures. They can then distribute these one-pagers to employees and invite them to weigh in and discuss what they would or should have done differently. This encourages a two-way dialogue between workers and leadership and can help prevent incidents before they occur.
To learn more about how MJ can help your organization prevent injuries for your employees, contact us today. And stay tuned for the third installment in our National Safety Month series to learn about mental wellbeing for frontline workers.CONTACT MJ