IN PRINT -- Better Safe than Sorry: Safety procedures are there to protect, not annoy
Tire irons and jacks are not worth a human life, yet a tire service technician in Whitehorse, Yukon died while retrieving his tools from under a truck he had been working on. The incident happened back in 2011, but it has stuck with me for years because the death was needless and could have easily been prevented – and also because I can’t count how many times I have backed a truck out of a shop without first checking to make sure nobody was beneath it.
It was a classic case of everyone involved mistakenly assuming someone else had done what they were supposed to do. Published reports indicate the technician had completed repairs on the truck and informed his supervisor that the truck was ready to be picked up. Just as the driver showed up to remove the truck from the shop, the technician decided to make one last check underneath for stray tools. That’s when the driver climbed into the running truck and backed up, crushing the fellow beneath the wheels.
The judge said the tire shop did not have lock-out procedures in place to ensure the vehicle could not be moved, and that the carrier failed to properly train a dispatcher assigned to move the truck.
The Yukon Workers’ Compensation, Health and Safety Board laid charges against the tire company, carrier and both supervisors, and fines of more than $90,000 were paid by the three parties following the findings of guilt.
A fascinating television series aired a few years ago called Air Crash Investigation (you can still find it on You Tube). It revealed the causes of many high-profile airliner crashes and illustrated the chains of events that led to the incident. In most cases, the cause was not a single human or mechanical failure, but a chain or a combination of misunderstandings, errors, omissions, malfunctions and incorrect assumptions – as in the case of the tire technician’s death.
“If one looks closely at even minor accidents, there’s usually not a single cause, but if there is, it’s probably not a case of not knowing any better,” suggests Stephen DeSousa of Vancouver’s SDS Safety Consultants. “In other words, those involved probably knew the correct procedure, but for some reason chose to ignore it; probably it took extra time or extra steps, or was simply inconvenient.
Not long ago in Edmonton, a rash of trailers became disconnected from their tractors on a single day. Chris Harris, Top Dawg (president) of fleet safety consulting firm, Safety Dawg, says the police investigation eventually put it down to some disgruntled individual with an axe to grind against truckers. But the incident also called the drivers’ actions into question. “Why did they not do a simple tug test before pulling the truck out onto the highway?” Harris asks.
“Whenever I’m doing a driver training session, I stress the importance of protecting themselves and their equipment before they begin driving,” he says. “Walk around the truck, make sure nothing is under it, make sure all the lights work and tires are inflated, and then do a tug test and brake check before leaving the lot.”
Harris says trucking’s approach to -safety has improved over the past few decades, but he says it’s still not ingrained in the culture.
“We have safety meetings and discussions on maybe a quarterly basis, but many fleets lack the follow-up and the ongoing discussion they need to institutionalize the practices,” he says. “It shouldn’t be seen as punitive or a distraction to the main task. Safety is a way of doing things that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in a task.”
Harris admits it can be difficult to get workers excited about a safety program. They might be aware of the potential benefits of such a program, but if they don’t see themselves as part of the problem, they won’t be quick to embrace a solution. He points to fall protection as an example.
“They probably know they are required to use some kind of fall prevention measure when they are working at heights six feet or more above the ground,” Harris says. “But what are they to do when tarping a load [and] the customer doesn’t provide the necessary facility, such as a rack and a harness?”
Or cleaning snow off the roof of their trailer, he adds. “They know they are required in some places to do that, but they either don’t have the proper -equipment, or if they try using a shovel and a ladder, they know the risk of a fall is much higher.”
The risk, he says, is that workers might dismiss even a well-intentioned program because they are not supported in their compliance efforts.
Penske Truck Leasing has been actively engaging its employees in working safely, and a program that is constantly being refined has already saved the -company “millions” in lost-time and worker -injury claims. Barry Kemper, vice president – insurance risk management attributes much of the program’s success to a -collaborative approach.
“We do a lot of facility reviews every year, and our approach is to be creative and helpful in getting the locations to resolve the problems,” he says. “We are not just going in and auditing the shops and dinging them for what [they] did wrong.”
Kemper says technology has made the task much easier. Penske offers all its locations remedial training and safety discussion electronically, with video, slide presentations and live hosts who communicate directly with participants.
Chuck Pagesy, director of safety at Penske Truck Leasing, is the one responsible for delivering that training, and much of it is developed internally, including the subject matter.
“In addition to the regular training sessions we conduct, whenever there’s a serious incident, we investigate and document it, and then create a training session and share it across all of our branches in the U.S. and Canada,” he says. “They are required to take the session within 48 hours and they have to document their participation.”
Pagesy says worker and supervisor -participation is good and there’s a lot of two-way dialog. “It’s not just a lecture,” he stresses. “It’s a learning environment, and we do provide all the tools and assistance we can to get people engaged.”
Penske also distributes a series of monthly safety posters that have QR codes on them. From that the worker can access more online material and they can do a quiz with a chance to win a $150 gift card just for taking the quiz.
“The card is an incentive to drive engagement,” Kemper says. “But I think the stronger message comes from the corporate environment. The technicians know we want them to go home at the end of the shift in the same condition in which they came to work. We ask a lot of them in terms of using the proper tools and -procedures, but we have their back, too. It’s not a one-way street.”
The judge deciding the fines in the Whitehorse tire technician fatality cited both the tire service company and the carrier that owned the truck for not providing enough training and for not have more defined procedures for clearing a truck from the shop.
Having a keyboard and requiring a walkaround before starting the truck, or even requiring the horn to be sounded, might have saved that fellow’s life. A little inconvenience is certainly a small price to pay compared to a human life.
10 Safe Ideas
1. Pull the safety manager out of their office. Increasing the number of non-confrontational interactions with employees can help establish a more cooperative and productive -relationship across the team.
2. Embrace technology and social media to deliver the safety message. Hold online -meetings and webinars for drivers and remote personnel.
3. Incentivize drivers and shop personnel to take an active role in promoting safety.
4. Identify possible threats in every facet of the operation and discuss how to address problems. Some of the best ideas will come from those most familiar with the situation.
5. Establish a best practices manual with lots of employee input. Consider using a video or multimedia format to deliver the message rather than words on a page.
6. Work with – or possibly audit – customers for compliance with company safety policies and procedures. Deal with violations, such as not providing proper fall protection for flatdeck operators or failing to ensure a safe maneuvering area around loading docks. Don’t ignore driver complaints.
7. Share appropriate details of accident investigations so that everyone has an opportunity to learn from them.
8. Identify the five most frequent accidents or incidents in your workplace and take steps to eradicate them. Repeat.
9. Consider offering first aid training to drivers. With the knowledge of how to treat minor injuries comes an increased awareness of potentially dangerous or risky situations.
10. Don’t take short cuts. Whether it’s a literal short cut through a shady part of town or -disabling a safety feature on a tool because it’s inconvenient, not adhering to - procedures can lead to trouble.