Workplace safety is a crucial aspect of any business. However, simply implementing safety protocols and conducting training sessions may not always be enough to prevent accidents and injuries. In many cases, workplace safety issues stem from deeper underlying problems that need to be addressed at their root. By identifying and tackling these issues head-on, businesses can create a safer and healthier work environment for their employees. In this article, we'll explore how getting to the root of workplace safety problems can help improve overall safety in the workplace. We'll also discuss some effective strategies that businesses can use to address these issues and create a safer workplace for everyone. So, whether you're a business owner, manager, or employee, read on to discover how you can help improve workplace safety by getting at the root of the problem.
The Relationship Between Workplace Safety and Root Causes of Problems
There are many challenges to face in the workplace. And an unfortunate reality is that sometimes injurious or damaging events occur. Each one of them has a specific root cause, or root causes, that if removed will either prevent or minimize the recurrence of another such event. In a very real sense, workplace safety is the state of being free from these events. So, if you’re looking to improve, then you need to look at solving the root causes of your events. The better you get at solving the root causes, the better your workplace safety will be.
Knee-Jerk Reactions Usually Hurt Workplace Safety Efforts
When a workplace safety problem arises, it's tempting to implement a quick fix to address the immediate issue. For example, if an employee is injured while operating a piece of machinery, a business may respond by adding more safety guards to the machine or requiring additional safety training for employees. While these solutions may help to address the immediate problem, they often fail to address the underlying cause of the issue.
In many cases, the root cause of a workplace safety problem is more complex and difficult to identify than the immediate issue at hand. Knee-jerk reactions to workplace safety problems can lead to a false sense of security, as businesses may believe that they have solved the problem when they have only addressed a symptom of the issue.
Additionally, knee-jerk reactions can have the unintended consequence of eroding company morale. If front-line management and employees think and feel that higher level management is fixing problems with the metaphorical equivalent of duct tape, then they may cease to think that management cares about safety in any meaningful way. This can lead to a culture of “just get the work done”. In such a culture, there may be superficial lip service and action to safety, but in reality, safety is far down the list of things to do (assuming they are done at all).
As a result, you have now added additional contributing factors and not addressed the root causes of harmful events. So, now you’ll probably find that not only do your harmful events recur, but they express themselves in worse and/or more numerous ways than previously.
To truly improve workplace safety, businesses must take the time to identify and address the root causes of workplace safety problems. This requires a deeper understanding of the workplace environment, the tasks being performed, and the factors that contribute to workplace safety issues.
Workplace Safety Needs the Identification of the Root Causes of Problems
Identifying the root causes of workplace safety problems requires a systematic approach that involves analyzing data, observing work processes, and soliciting feedback from employees. By taking a holistic view of workplace safety, businesses can identify patterns and trends that may be contributing to workplace safety issues.
For example, if employees are frequently injured while using a particular piece of equipment, a business may conduct a root cause analysis to determine why these injuries are occurring. This analysis may reveal that the equipment is outdated and in need of maintenance or that employees are not receiving proper training on how to use the equipment safely.
By identifying the root cause of the issue, businesses can develop targeted and effective solutions that address the underlying problem. In the case of the equipment example, a business may decide to replace the outdated equipment or provide additional training to employees on how to use the equipment safely.
Let's Evaluate a Hypothetical Situation
To better understand the importance of identifying and addressing root causes of workplace safety problems, let's consider the following hypothetical situation.
A business finds that its employees are consistently injuring themselves when changing out a large equipment saw blade. The upper-level management is concerned about this issue and says to its safety department to improve the Personal Protective Equipment Program to address changing out the saw blades.
While this is being investigated, the safety department conducts in person evaluations of how the saw blades are being changed as well as the contents of the facility level Personal Protective Equipment Program and fulfillment of its requirements. It was found that the facility level programs were not kept up to date with the requirements of the corporate level template. Additionally, while the facilities had done many of the required PPE hazard assessments, none of them had done one for the saw job task or the work area. This was compared to the corporate level program, which had included recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) for doing this job task.
A finding of the onsite saw blade change task was that no employees were observed wearing the recommended PPE to change the blades. Their injuries were typically to their hands, arms, and backs. The recommended PPE had provisions to protect these body parts. When asked, the employees said that they were not aware of this requirement and were never provided with the PPE or training on said PPE. This was followed up with the management at each facility, and it was found that the PPE was never acquired and none of the required training on the PPE’s use was found.
The findings were taken back to upper-level management with the recommendation that the corporate-level Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not be changed as it adequately accounted for protecting against the injuries. The issues found were as follows: the facilities didn’t maintain current versions of the PPE program, they didn’t perform the required PPE hazard assessments for doing this known and addressed job task, they didn’t acquire and provide the PPE, and they didn’t perform documented training on using the PPE.
In this hypothetical scenario, at least part of the root cause would be enforcement of company rules, which was later found to not have happened. Even though upper-level management thought that changing the program would help with this issue, it turned out that the program covered the issue. But at the end of the day, programs, policies, procedures, and other rules are just words on paper or a digital format. There must be adherence to them, which requires enforcement.
However, if the facilities were not provided with the budget and time to do these things, with their superiors demanding more production, then another root cause would be that the facility was not provided with what it needed to meet the requirements of the program. These things must be solved to prevent injuries at the saw and in other areas.
The Issues of Not Addressing Root Causes
Failing to address the root causes of workplace safety problems can have serious consequences for businesses and employees alike. Without addressing the underlying problem, businesses may continue to experience workplace injuries and accidents, which can result in lost productivity and increased business costs. Additionally, employees may suffer from long-term health problems as a result of workplace injuries and illnesses, which can have a significant impact on their quality of life.
Develop Preventive Actions that Focus on Solving Root Causes
To improve workplace safety, businesses must focus on developing preventive actions that address the root causes of workplace safety problems. This requires a commitment to ongoing data analysis, employee feedback, and process improvement. Businesses must also be willing to invest in the resources, whatever they may be, necessary to address workplace safety issues effectively. In short, set your employees up for success.
Preventive actions may include targeted training programs, equipment upgrades, process improvements, and ongoing safety audits and behavior observations. By taking a proactive approach to workplace safety, businesses can create a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
In conclusion, improving workplace safety requires more than just implementing immediate solutions to workplace safety problems. To truly create a safe and healthy work environment, businesses must identify and address the root causes of workplace safety issues. By taking a systematic approach to workplace safety, businesses can develop targeted solutions that address the underlying problems and create a culture of safety in the workplace.