Six tips to help workers understand the consequences of neglecting safety

by Norm Kramer & Hamish Morgan

Many people may find themselves completing the same jobs and tasks daily. But how many times do they pause to consider the risks that are related to these seemingly mundane tasks? If people don’t fully appreciate the risks, health and safety protocols may not be top of mind.

Norm Kramer provides expert, in-depth health and safety consulting services for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) as a Warehouse Specialist in the GTA region.

What is low risk perception?

Low risk perception refers to the cognitive bias in which individuals underestimate the potential dangers or hazards present in their work environment.

As people become more comfortable with a task, they can become complacent. They don’t think about the risks and that safety procedures are in place to protect them. For example, in a warehouse and distribution centre, the following scenarios are common:

  • A lift truck operator and a worker move through the same space without considering the risk of crush injuries.
  • A worker places a broken pallet on upper-level racking with excessive overhang on the back beam, not thinking the load may shift and fall.
  • A young worker in good physical condition carries out repetitive lifting tasks with a bent back, not thinking about the risk of injury.
  • A worker performs work in the yard during low light conditions without wearing high visibility apparel, thinking they can be seen by drivers.
  • A supervisor fails to train staff during the busy season because the company prioritizes speed and productivity over safety.

Don’t let an injury be a reminder of risk. Continuously communicate risks in a way that workers, supervisors, and managers can relate to. Remind everyone what’s at stake when health and safety procedures are not followed.

Hamish Morgan, B.Sc (Honours), is Consulting Services Manager for WSPS.

The real-life consequences of low risk perception in the scenarios above include:

  • A crush injury because a worker in a hurry walked behind a lift truck just as the operator reverses.
  • Product falling on a worker as a result of a pallet getting bumped from behind when another pallet is placed on a rack.
  • A debilitating back injury for the healthy worker who repeatedly lifts with awkward posture, such as bent back.
  • Struck-by injuries for workers in the yard who are not wearing high visibility apparel.
  • High injury stats in an area of the warehouse due to inadequate safety communications by a supervisor.

Communicating risk

Here are six tips for preventing low risk perception and keeping health and safety top of mind among your workforce.

1. Regularly communicate the potential outcomes of an incident through internal campaigns, videos, and meeting discussions. Go beyond what the injury would look like. Show how this type of injury would impact a person’s family and daily life.

2. Ensure workers who perform the task and supervisor participate in risk assessments. Thinking about what could happen and how it could happen will help keep risks top of mind and help everyone develop an understanding of why certain procedures are so important.

3. Embed risk information in training. It’s not enough to explain how to complete a task safely. People want to understand why. Include information about past injuries and near misses, and how procedures have been adapted as a result.

5. Invite your workers or perhaps a guest speaker to share their story. If one of your workers has suffered a loss at work, respectfully inquire if the worker is comfortable telling their story to their co-workers. If so, they can share how a life-altering workplace injury, occupational disease, or work-related fatality has impacted their families. When people hear about an actual event and how lives were affected, it leaves a lasting impression about the consequences of not taking health and safety precautions.

5. Include supervisors and managers in your campaigns and communications about risks. Harness the internal responsibility system (IRS) by making sure all workplace parties have a clear understanding of the hazards in your warehouse. With an established IRS, people will hold each other accountable for following health and safety procedures. When managers and supervisors understand the potential outcomes, they are less likely to look the other way when safety procedures are ignored. Remember, your supervisors must be competent to identify and control hazards so that the workers they supervise do not get injured.

6. Set the tone. Staff will take cues from leadership. If safety is prioritized it will be evident in the workplace culture and part of regular discussion. For example, if safety footwear and high visibility clothing is required in the warehouse, the executive team including the CEO must set the example.