Seemingly Safe

Author: Mark Guarino

Mar 21, 2019 Safety at home

Safety at the workplace has a high priority. At home, things look completely different: We do not follow a plan and risks are hardly considered here. Don Martin from DEKRA Organizational Safety & Reliability (OSR) keeps a close eye on this problem.

Mr. Martin, how do you get people to start thinking about safety at home?
We ask people to describe something they did at home that exposed them to risk. Most of the time they describe a situation where their life was in jeopardy but nothing bad happened. So a guy climbs a tree with a ladder carrying a chainsaw to saw some limbs. And the ladder falls, they fall, and the chainsaw almost hits them. They describe this and say ”OK, that was close, no harm, no foul. Let’s get back up there and finish the job”. But something did happen! It’s what we call a “near miss.” We’re trying to get people to reflect on the near misses that could lead to a life-altering outcome. And then get them to take a step back and figure out a different way to approach that job.
What are the greater safety risks outside the workplace?
According to National Safety Council data, the number one cause of unintentional death is accidental poisoning. Motor vehicle crashes are the second. Accidental falls are the third. Are our drugs and cleaning chemicals locked away? Do we put our mobile phones away while we are driving? Do we have a properly secured ladder to work from?
Fires are number six on the list. How often do we see news stories where someone empties gasoline out of a lawnmower into a tray and vapors find their way to the hot water heater and we have an explosion? A person wouldn’t do it that way at work in a million years Yet at home their environment is different and they’re thinking and behaving differently. We’re trying to get people to model those behaviors from work to instill them in the home.
How does leading by example help reinforce safety?
Let’s say I’m at a crowded intersection with my five kids and the sign says “don’t walk.” And I look around and I walk through the intersection because I know better than the light. What behavior did I just model for my kids? So we have to be thinking about what impression our behaviors are leaving on other people, especially young people.
Don Martin is a Senior Vice President with DEKRA OSR. He brings over four decades of experience as a safety industry veteran. His areas of expertise include fatality prevention programs, safety leadership development, elimination of fatalities, injuries and catastrophic incidents, and accident investigations.
Why is it difficult for people to connect practicing safety at work to practicing it at home?
At work we have a process. Which means I have to stop and plan the job. That process pushes my thinking into what we call the “slow brain.” The slow brain is logical, it plans things, it thinks about steps in sequence. It’s a very methodical approach to safety.
But most of the time we’re functioning in fast brain mode because it’s more efficient and gets things done faster. When we are at home and have to do a task, we just want to get it done and over with. There are no triggers to say you’re not allowed to do that job without a work plan. Or a risk assessment. None of that is in place at home.
Instead I put the chair on the table to change a lightbulb and I get the job done, no safety problems. And then six months later another lightbulb goes out and I do the same thing. If I do that behavior 100 times and the consequences are always the same, I will continue to do that behavior that way.
How do you break that pattern?
You have to have a new behavior in order to change that lightbulb. I may get my son to help me and he’ll hold the ladder. If every time we do the job that way and we have positive consequences, that’s the behavior we’ll reinforce in the future. At work, safety is expected, encouraged, and reinforced and at home you can take at-risk behavior and get very positive rewards for it.
Change can’t involve one person — everyone has to be in it together. That’s really important when you’re engaging in a life threatening activity. You have to step back, plan the job out in proper sequence, and engage your family in the conversation.