"Workplace Safety for a New Era" 2/2

Mar. 9, 2020 [No.74-2019]

Takahiro Nakamura, Professor,
Faculty of Societal Safety Sciences,
Kansai University


Last time, we looked at the background surrounding recurring accidents from the standpoint of the people who give information and tell us their intentions, and the people who receive them. This time, we would like to think of it from the aspect of the basic psychological workings that everyone has.

4. Common aspects of different scenes - knowledge, understanding, awareness, and behavior - 

"Falling over" and "tripping" will often not lead to a serious disasters, but they account for a large percentage of the causes of accidents requiring absence from work, so they cannot be ignored.

There are many workplaces which encourage the use of hand railings, especially when using stairs. On the other hand, there are no workplaces where 100% of the people use the hand railings when they go up and down the stairs. Similarly, in most workplaces, workers are required to use a safety belt when working at heights. However, as with the fact that the use of hand railings when using stairs does not equal 100%, the use of safety belts does not equal 100%, even if the workplaces are equipped with safety belts.

In Japan, both the driver and front passenger seat belt usage rates are nearly 100% when driving. However, even though there are people who always wear seat belts when sitting in the driver or front passenger seats, they might not always wear belts when sitting in the rear seats. If this happens to be when they are in the rear seats of taxis, their belt usage rate will drop even further.

Hand railings for stairs, the use of safety belts and the wearing of seat belts are different scenes respectively, but everyone should understand what to do to be safer. However, the reality is that everyone has not chosen to act as if they understand that it is safer. What is common to these three different scenes?

People who feel at some risk, whether they are on stairs, working at heights, or riding in a car, and seek an approach to reduce that risk, would attempt to take advantage of the usable resources. People who do not feel at risk, or feel some risk but believe that the risk is acceptable, would not feel the need to utilize the resources that exist around them. In other words, people who think they are OK would not use hand railings, safety belts, or seat belts even if they were there in front of their eyes.

To choose safe behavior, first you need to have "knowledge," such as, "What is safer?" and, "How to be safer?" However, knowledge at just the "having seen" level, or repeating sentences from the rule book does not have enough influence to change their behavior. It should be "knowledge" with an "understanding" as the basis for supporting "knowledge," i.e. "Why is this safer?"

The second important thing is "awareness." No matter how much "knowledge" and "understanding" people have, they do not always make the right choice. People have the ability to manage various situations because they have the flexibility and redundancy characteristics to make more efficient and reasonable choices, depending on the scene and the circumstances at the time. On the other hand, this ability sometimes leads people into "corner-cutting" and "omissions." This is not a problem with the individual's ability or aptitude, but a problem with human nature which could affect anyone. The function which senses these traps and gets back on track is "awareness," and it acts as a trigger to activate the "knowledge" and "understanding" stored in the memory and make more secure decisions.

Ultimately, "behavior" decides whether it is safe or not. No matter how well they understand and are aware of what is safe and how to be safe, safety is not realized unless it is done as an action. "Knowledge," "understanding" and "awareness" are internal activities only. In order to make safety truly practical and realistic, it must be externalized as "action."

In order to change their behavior, we must change their "awareness." In order to change "awareness," appropriate "understanding" and "knowledge" are necessary.

5. "Perspectives" and "points of view"

There are various interactions with others as we work. There are various relationships, such as those between managers and workers, clients and contractors, and seniors and juniors. In either relationship, an appropriate authority gradient is necessary, and excessive restraint and trust could sometimes lead to a loss of workplace safety.

On the other hand, in particular regarding "safety," phrases such as "Please do not hesitate to speak to each other" are often spoken by superiors to subordinates. There is no lie in the words of superiors, but could subordinates really "speak to them honestly?" The phrase, "Tackle the problem from the same perspective, regardless of whether you are a superior or a subordinate," is beautiful, but in reality, it is difficult to build a flat relationship "from the same perspective."

The term, "from the same perspective" includes the meaning of "at the same level in their eyes." In other words, there is usually a difference in each other's positions, but it means to eliminate the difference, and try to build a flat relationship. However, even if they tried to match the level with their eyes, the view that they saw would differ from different directions. If they respect the position of their partners, understand their feelings, and work together to solve problems, they should stand at the same point of view and look at things from the same direction to see the same view, rather than "at the same level with their eyes."

6. Conclusion

Based on my experience, I have focused on the background and the challenges that cause the accidents to be repeated. Each of them may actually be quite a trivial and boring thing. However, while many workplaces have been making safety efforts for years, the reason why we cannot achieve zero accidents is that we have focused too much on tackling the main areas, rather we should take the trivial parts more seriously. Soul is in details. If you pay attention to the details, you will still have room to manage to achieve a higher level of safety.

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