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What Are the Safety Rules for Anyway?

It’s quite simple:  following the safety rules is the foundation to eliminating injuries.  Commonly,  a safety presenter will say that safety rules are “written in blood”.  At one time, such dramatic statements were a way to get attention and illustrated the seriousness of following safety rules.  Today, more highly educated workforces demand less drama and more facts. Let’s face it, safety rules are in place because  hazards exist and people were injured.   Whether the site is a coal, gas fired, or nuclear power plant, hazards are part of the work and must be controlled to prevent injury.
The OSHA General Duty Clause holds employers responsible for providing employees a workplace free from recognized hazards and employees are required to follow the rules that protect them from the hazards.  To create a safe workplace, employers and employees must be able to recognize, evaluate, and control the hazards in the workplace.  Empirical research of incident reports and interviews with hundreds of workers shows that employees who were injured on the job did not “see” the hazard that injured them.  Observationally, employees and employers, operational leaders and safety specialist often walk by recognizable hazards without controlling or fixing them.
Identification of workplace hazards must be a constant task of employers and the employees who are directly connected to the work.  A formal hazard identification process ensures no hazard goes uncontrolled.  This formal process guides the creation of safety rules that act as controls to prevent injuries.  In the process two types of hazards must be considered: those that are inherent in the work (steam, pressure, heat, cold, height, etc.) and those created by performing work.  During the work employees often pull hoses, string power cords, wash equipment, operated forklifts, make repairs, turn valves, and create potentially unrecognized hazards.  Such hazards are the top reasons for workplace injuries and the means to controlling them is trained employees who will “find and fix” them.  Employees trained in the importance of Situational Hazard RecognitionTM (SHR) are less likely to become complacent about hazards.

Employees responsible for planning work may walk to a job location and pass hazards such as spills, hoses across walk ways, or damaged equipment because they are focused on the hazards to be assessed for the next job, not the current situation. When employees practice SHR in the workplace, they understand that hazards change with every task.
In the past, safety training was focused on teaching employees to look for pinch points, rotating equipment, sharp edges, and such.  A different approach is needed to sharpen workers’ ability to see the hazards, then enable them to take action when they see them and teach them the fundamentals of making the workplace safe.  A simple, straightforward approach can be applied by everyone at the job site.
Four Simple Categories of Hazards*
Many methods exist to identify hazards.  Some are quite complex.  Four simple categories are presented below:
Employee (EM)
Employees become a hazard when they fail to follow the safety procedures and not wear personal protective equipment.  Poorly trained employees are a hazard.  Training has become a target of OSHA, NRC, and other regulating bodies.  For example, the NRC requires on-time training attendance and high levels of participation, with management and employees held accountable. New employees also pose a hazard as they are often unaware of what can hurt them. An in-depth experiential orientation focused on educating new employees on known hazards is essential.
Equipment (EQ)
Equipment introduces recognized and unrecognized hazards.  Safety engineers and professionals work to identify and train users in safe handling of the equipment   and often the operational hazards (rotating equipment, pinch-points, hot parts, etc.) are included on job briefing forms;.  Other factors create additional equipment hazards.
Equipment that is poorly maintained in the workplace is a hazard.  This equipment is not only a physical hazard but a mental one as well.  Operators who have inspected, found the equipment unsafe, and reported it only to be told, “go ahead and run it this time” tend to just check the boxes on the inspection form.  Attitudes of equipment operators then begin to be that the organizations is not serious about safety. The result is an declining safety culture.  When equipment is purposely operated outside of the manufacturer’s specifications, another hazard is introduced.
Environment (EV)
Standard environmental hazards (rain, snow, ice, heat, cold, and wind) are obvious and are easy to identify but are not always recognized as the  compounding factors to injuries.  When combined with employees or equipment this category becomes important.
Energy (EN)
Energy sources (electrical, steam, pressure, hydraulic and stored energy) are often readily recognized in the utility industry.  An often unrecognized source of energy is a moving piece of equipment being operated in environmental conditions by an employee who is trying to get the work done.  The collapse of “Big Blue” in 1999 is a prime example.  In this case, employee, equipment, environment and energy combined for catastrophic failure that killed three people.
A brief article cannot cover all the hazards that must be controlled in the power generation industry.  A 30-minute safety meeting on the subject is not sufficient.  Hazard recognition and control requires time to ensure understanding and appropriate application on each task.  It is the cornerstone of an effective safety process.  Enabling every employee to “find and fix” the hazards found in each situation is critical. Hence, if everyone follows the rules they are likely to be injury-free.  The mindset shifts from one of ‘safety is about luck’ to one where individuals understand that they have significant control over their own safety. The outcome is: nobody gets hurt.
*These four categories are the result of Carl Potter’s research and design taught in his workshop.
Carl Potter, certified safety professional (CSP) and certified management consultant (CMC) spent over 17 years in the utility industry and has consulted to high-risk industries for over 20 years.  He has trained thousands of employees in his hazard recognition and control workshop.  Email Carl at to request booking information.

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