Are Zero Accidents Really What You Want?

No matter what services you perform on a job site, you are bound to need to lift something.  There are multiple ways to lift materials and equipment.  One of those ways is using chains, wire rope, or straps to lift the equipment/materials with a crane or piece of equipment.  Let’s discuss how to get this task done safely. 

Preparing a load for lifting requires it to be rigged.  All personnel performing this work shall be trained in rigging practices.  The most popular rigging equipment are chains, wire rope, and nylon/polyester slings.  Each type of equipment has its advantages and disadvantages, but it must be thoroughly inspected before use.  The rigger checks the piece of equipment for any signs of wear and damage.  If there’s any doubt on the condition of the chain, wire rope, or sling, it needs to be replaced.  The rigger chooses the equipment based on the environment it will be used, the method of rigging, and the weight of the object that will be lifted.

Once the material or equipment that will be lifted is properly rigged, the next question would be if a tag line is required.  A tag line is typically a rope attached to the lifted load to stabilize it during the material handling operation.  Whether or not OSHA requires it depends; however, we all strive for best practices, and that would always be to use a tagline.  The tag line allows someone to help control the load and adjust its orientation from a distance.  OSHA’s stance on when a tag line is required whenever the rotation of the load would be hazardous.

The tag line does not need to be held the entire time of the lift.  The purpose is to help control the load and its orientation.  That can be accomplished when the load is first lifted off the ground and then when it’s coming into land in its location.  When the load is lifted, and the operator (crane or equipment) cannot visibly see the load for the duration of the lift, then a signal person must be used.

Before lifting the load, the operator and signal person must agree on the method of signaling to be used and the meaning of the gestures.  There are some standard hand signals and phrases; however, you always want to review them before the lift with the operator.  Even if radios are used for communicating between the signal person and the operator, always be prepared to use hand signals due to possible radio interference or malfunction.

Only the necessary people to rig a lift and get it lifted into the air shall be in the area whenever a lift is conducted—the fewer obstacles to contend with, the better for the operator.  Various other rigging accessories can be used in conjunction with the chains, wire ropes, and slings mentioned here, and they all need to undergo the same pre-use inspection.  There shall never be anyone underneath a lifted load for any reason.  Open communication and proper pre-planning are vital in keeping the area clear of unnecessary personnel, using the appropriate equipment, and maintaining a clear path around and beneath the load at all times.

We have seen the banners on job sites, the splash pages on websites, and the slogans during safety talks, “we are a zero accidents company/job site.” However, is that what we want to be preaching?  Would a job site or a company with zero accidents have a strong safety culture or even be a safe working environment? 

First off, let’s agree that an accident can also be defined as an incident.  A robust incident reporting culture has many near misses and first aid only incidents when it comes to reporting.  Yes, you read that right.  I said that it’s expected to have a lot of near misses and first aid only incidents.  Humans do the work, and by nature, humans make errors.  Error is anticipated in any day-to-day activity.  Think back to the last day that you did not make a single error.  It is estimated that the average human makes between 4-6 errors per hour.  So let’s say five errors to make the math easier.  How many people are on a typical job site, again to make the math easier, let’s say 100.  So there’s a chance for 500 errors per hour or 4,000 errors throughout the 8 hr workday on that job site.  If there are many chances for errors to be made, why don’t we see incident rates off the charts?

That’s a good question, and the reason is that an error could be a mismeasurement, a mistake in work, a dropped tool, or any other number of harmless things that could go wrong.  There are also safety policies and procedures in place to help prevent people from injuries and incidents.  With any number of those harmless errors that occur throughout the workday, some in a strong incident reporting culture would show up as a near miss or first aid only incident.  You forgot your gloves and decided to work anyway and cut your finger.  The injury required only a simple bandage, and you went back to work.  Another one of those incidents would be you get yourself set up to work at height, you go to grab a tool out of your tool belt, and it slips out of your hand, falling to the ground below.  Nothing happens except your tool bounces around, and you have to retrieve it.  Those are two easy examples of everyday incidents that would be reported as a first-aid only incident and a near-miss incident.  When a near miss or first aid only incident is reported, the next question is how do you deal with them?  In short, you should investigate and handle any incident that is reported the same. 

We must view these incidents as gifts.  As I stated earlier, we want to have many near miss or first aid only incidents.  That sounds counterproductive at first, but it is not.  When a mistake happens, and that’s what occurs when a near miss or first aid only incident occurs, then there are two things that it can lead to.  It is the role of everyone to take those incidents and learn from them.  It’s been said that a smart person learns from their mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others.  If we take these lesser incidents and use them as teaching tools to prevent them from reoccurrence, we work to prevent a more serious incident that could result in injury.

Construction is hazardous by default.  Incidents will happen on a job site.  Suppose you promote a zero-incident/accident culture. In that case, you will be missing out on opportunities to adjust procedures, policies, and methods to prevent serious injury or damage in the future.  If a near miss or first aid only incident occurs and nothing happens as a result of it, then it is bound to occur again, and maybe the next time it won’t be a near miss or first aid only; it could be worse.  If we ditch the Zero Accidents/Incidents way of thinking.  Change the thought process to Zero Injury by promoting a report anything culture and redefining an incident as anything that happens outside of the ordinary.  After all, isn’t that what we all mean when we say zero accidents anyway? 

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