Safety culture and design of places in …

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In one of the most authoritative definitions, “safety culture” is defined as “shared beliefs, practices and attitudes that exist in a company. Culture is the atmosphere created by the beliefs, attitudes that shape our behavior” (definition according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA). Although there are other definitions and with different inclinations, it is already clear from this simple description how the safety culture, sufficiently improved and developed, can bring great benefits to the safety system in the workplace and promote a cultural change of all actors, especially the workers involved in the management of prevention.

The safety culture understood as a positive influence on human behavior therefore represents the development of the approach to work based on a different way of thinking, which makes everyone think and behave with attention to aspects related to safety in the workplace, which is actually a common value. .

In recent years, we have observed the widespread tendency to relaunch and develop, actively animate, the safety culture of several companies, which, while applying different methods and practices, try to refine and implement its principles in the various operational areas: from the preparation of operating instructions for designing training by reviewing specific studies and measurements for the purpose of understanding its characteristics.

Each of these initiatives adds value, a brick to the building of a virtuous system, which in its maximum expression generates a work environment in which the safety culture becomes a leading characteristic. Most of the initiatives, however, envisage increasing the level of a company’s safety culture through actions aimed at the individual affected workers, such as training, thus creating a strong dependency between the employees involved in the initiative and the cultural level of the specific company. However, the current changing and dynamic social and organizational context, characterized by high turnover rates, new hires, job changes, increases the complexity of a process of changing the staff culture by limiting the scope of the effort to a short period. and limited to the structure that was in place at the time of the initiative. Even in robust organizations equipped with an organized and complete safety management system, sudden organizational changes, if not managed properly, can lead to nuisance and disruption of a virtuous safety system previously built with workers-only initiatives.

To this end, one of the ways to consolidate the safety culture of the company is by separating it from the mere bond of the staff working there, by taking actions aimed at creating environments or workplaces that stimulate the workers to perform safe behaviors. . A safety culture therefore evoked by the external environment in which the workers are immersed and to which they have a strong and indisputable bond.

Working in clean, tidy environments, with properly reported hazards, suitable equipment is designed to increase the ergonomics elements that enable safe behavior that is independent of the individual worker and his or her level of integration into the system. The focus is then shifted to the design of the environments, creating elements that are able to activate the safe behavior of the staff working there, regardless of the level of integration into the system of the same.

One of the concrete and punctual activities that can therefore be initiated to develop and consolidate the safety culture is to create work environments that promote safer staff behavior and support the acquisition of good habits.

The essential concept needed for an appropriate design of environments is the understanding and study of behavioral activation systems. In fact, most of our daily behaviors are activated automatically, especially for routine activities and for those whose potential consequences in the event of a “mistake” have a low impact. Our attention tends to increase and makes us reflect on what is the best behavior, only in cases where the activity we are about to perform presents obvious known dangers, the consequences of which are considered to be worth note.

Getting off the steps of a vehicle can be considered a simple gesture, and the simple safety rules to be adopted during the descent are often ignored. However, accidents related to this activity are not uncommon, which can also lead to sprains and injuries. Another case is scenarios where safe behavior is not only not activated by the environment but is hindered by environmental conditions, such as avoiding the use of handrails when descending simple stairs to avoid contact with surfaces potentially contaminated by virus (example of Sars-CoV-2 today). A correct understanding of the mechanisms for activating behavior is therefore essential in order to be able to design work environments in a safe way.

The above is so much the more important, the more difficult to implement, the better the startup security is. In mature contexts, where safety has reached high levels of performance, we mostly witness accidents related to unpredictable accidents and resulting from small deviations from the correct execution of simple activities; trivial events in their dynamics, often generated by distractions or lack of attention in the simplest activities. Examples of such incidents are collisions, slips, falls from the floor, etc .; incidents that hardly lead to serious consequences, but which nevertheless form the tip of the iceberg, the extreme part of a near-accident flood, where action is needed to increase staff safety levels.

Based on the need to strengthen the culture of safety and work to reduce accidents through safe design of work environments by creating environments capable of activating safe behavior, the following step-by-step method has been defined:

analysis of the hazards that are naturally present in the workplace and associated with the performance of work activities
– identification of the most important safe behaviors that you want to encourage / unsafe behaviors that you want to prevent,
analysis of natural behavior, analysis of the causes of unsafe behavior,
review of the environments.

Hazard analysis

It is based on in-depth knowledge of the environments and activities that take place there, therefore on inspection / visit of the workplaces also suitable for identifying the current and non-eliminating hazards. This analysis is performed in three steps: verification of the departments with the support of operational and expert staff, consultation of the risk assessment document with the support of SPP, verification of the history of accidents, near misses and uncertain conditions reported by looking to understand the trend of events.

Based on the above analyzes, a list of risks that arise from employees’ interaction with work environments and equipment will therefore be defined. These risks must then be considered in relation to the probability of occurrence and the extent of the consequences in order to define a list of action priorities. Examples of such risks are falls, slipping in accordance with steps or bumps, pedestrians hit by driving vehicles, incorrect use of work equipment, exposure to risks from other places, failure to apply the correct emergency measures.

Behavior identification

Based on the list of risks, the correct associated behavior that is intended to be obtained and recalled from the work environment and the unsafe behavior that must be prevented are identified. This step therefore requires the presence of an occupational safety expert who can identify the main behaviors that prevent the risks identified in the previous phase.

Safe behavior must be simple to perform, and from the implementation of the same, a high response in terms of prevention or protection must be received. In practice, it is a matter of choosing which safety barrier (behavior) to implement best, which to choose from the possible ones, looking for the most effective. The result of this step is therefore the safe behavior that you want to activate and the unsafe behavior that you want to prevent by changing the work environment.

Examples of unsafe behavior that you want to prevent are: inadequate use of stairs, such as walking down with your hands full, improper use of sea stairs, lack of attention or use of unauthorized preferred routes (e.g. descending from the top floor of scaffolding without the use of stairs), incorrect descent from flaps or galleries. Regarding the safe behavior that you want to introduce, we can mention compliance with the traffic plan for pedestrians and vehicles, use of correct PPE in relation to the work area / activity, compliance with operating procedures, correct use of equipment.

Analysis of natural behavior, analysis of the causes of unsafe behavior

Downstream of identifying uncertain behavior, before proceeding with the planning of interventions, it is necessary to elaborate and analyze the causes of such behavior in order to understand the causes that led to the deviation. For this purpose, the method defined as Performance Variability Model (The variability of performance to improve safety at work: Methods and Tools by A. Zuliani, D. Santoro – Wolters Kluwer) can be used, which makes it possible to classify the behavior and define which best corrective action to implement for its correction.

Revision of the environments

The final step is the definition and implementation of the modifications of the environments to recall the safe behavior of the staff. This design activity is usually performed with the support of safety experts in the workplace and psychologists to increase the effectiveness of the identified solutions. Basic requirements for identifying appropriate actions are simplicity and performance in terms of enabling safe behavior. Practical design examples are the implementation of clear and efficient safety signs, the setting up of protective barriers for pedestrians in high-traffic areas, the definition of free pedestrian paths, the signaling of remaining hazards such as steps and bumps.

The use of signs to define the traffic plan in accordance with the Traffic Act can be a good example of designing environments to activate safe driving and pedestrian behavior. In fact, the staff will find themselves circulating in places where the colors of the signs are reminiscent of those that exist on the roads that we are all used to traveling. Another concrete example is the design of barriers or explicit signs to prevent the use of preference routes where deemed necessary: ​​e.g. the descent from bumps without using the correct escape routes.

The display on the workstations of photographic excerpts of the work procedures, with the risks and personal protective equipment to be used explicitly, constitutes another element in the design of the environments.

Thomas Perotti
H&S chef

Source: PdE, No. 62

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