Safety awareness for your agricultural employees: Part 1

Workplace safety is of particular concern in more hazardous occupations such as agriculture. To ensure their workforce stays safe around the clock, employers are looking at safety programs that extend beyond the workplace.

Workplace and worker safety was the focus of the 2013 Michigan Safety Conference held in April 2013 in Grand Rapids. Employers are required to provide a safe and healthful workplace to employees. Recent statistics show that employees are less likely to be injured at the workplace as compared to being injured at home, in their car or in public spaces.

Minimizing hazards in the workplace is obviously an area where employers can have the most control. Employers who want a stable workforce and are concerned about worker safety are turning to safety programs that address safety 24/7 – not just in the workplace. This year’s keynote speaker at the Michigan Safety Conference, Don Wilson of SafeStart, spoke about 24/7 safety awareness and the safety skills that business owners and employees can develop to reduce the likelihood of injury wherever they are.

In this Part 1 of three articles, we’ll cover the areas of safety awareness that Wilson brought to the group’s attention. According to Wilson there are four states that we can find ourselves in, and these states can cause or contribute to four critical errors which can then lead to an increased risk of injury. The four states are; Rushing, Frustration, Fatigue and Complacency.

Rushing involves doing a task at a speed that is greater than required or greater than we are capable of doing safely. Rushing may be based on a perceived or real need, it may be due to feedback from the supervisor or self-inflicted. When rushing is not based on a real need (do you really need to pass that car to get 15 feet further down the traffic backup?), we can recognize the state we are in and slow down to a safe speed. When rushing is based on a real need (an emergency), we can work to make sure that it doesn’t lead to one of the critical errors mentioned in future articles.

Life is full of Frustration, a difficult emotion to manage, often due to many types of circumstances which are out of our control. Frustration is one of the many emotions we may have when what happens doesn’t match our expectation of what should happen. It is a state we often find ourselves in and although it is often totally unrelated to the task that we are performing at the moment, we place ourselves at risk if we let frustration rule. The key is to acknowledge that we are frustrated and manage it, by determining to address that issue at the appropriate time, i.e. when we are not doing something else.

We all find ourselves Fatigued from time to time. Maybe you’ve worked a lot of hours over the last day or week or maybe you’ve been doing a repetitive task for hours. Fatigue can be both physical and mental. Physical fatigue may cause you to function at a level below your normal abilities. Mental fatigue may be manifested in sleepiness, decreased reaction time or inattentiveness. In either case, you can combat fatigue by taking more frequent breaks, drinking lots of water, eating right and trying to get more hours of sleep.

Complacency happens for a number of reasons including familiarity with a certain task and the lack of injuries from doing a task in an unsafe manner. As our familiarity with a task increases, so does our overconfidence that we can perform the task without thinking about it. We go on autopilot or even start multi-tasking and we might let our mind wander. All of a sudden we experience a near miss or close call. That gets our attention, doesn’t it? All of a sudden, our hearts are racing and our attention is focused, at least for a little while.

Can we be in more than one state at a time? Yes we can. Recognizing the state or states that we find ourselves in is the first step to avoiding critical errors that can lead to injuries. In the next Michigan State University Extension article, we will address the critical errors that employers and employees can make in response to these states.

Other articles in this series:

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