Keeping Safe through Proper Planning
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to represent people who have been hurt on the job in a wide range of workplace settings. Many of these injuries are the type of serious and catastrophic injuries that change lives, including the lives of the workers’ families. In many of these cases, the failure is the same. The companies that were supposed to be in charge of safety on the job site failed their responsibility to properly plan for the hazards of the job.
There are a couple of different ways to refer to this planning process, and one of the most common terms for the concept is the job hazard assessment, or JHA. Generally speaking, the JHA works like this: Qualified individuals familiar with the job analyze the job task step-by-step. At each step, the subject matter experts ask a very simple question - what could go wrong? That is, they ask themselves what hazards are associated with each step of the process. Where serious and dangerous hazards are identified, the JHA demands that companies undertake steps to eliminate or at least mitigate those hazards. The first and best mitigation option is always to eliminate the risk if at all possible. Is there another way to accomplish the same task without undertaking the hazard? Could a different set of steps or a different piece of equipment eliminate the risk entirely? If so, the problem may be solved. If not, the companies involved must do what they can to minimize or mitigate the risk. That would include making sure that the employees are specifically warned that there is a hazard of the job that cannot be eliminated and by verifying that all of the employees have and use the proper protective equipment. Through this simple but deliberate process, a great many catastrophic injuries could be prevented. Of course, this JHA process has applications beyond the workplace. When I began my senior year at West Point, the officer in charge of my company sat all of us down. He knew that as seniors, we would begin to enjoy certain privileges that were not available to the same extent as when we were underclassmen. One of those privileges was the ability to leave post much more frequently and the thought of New York City being a short trip down the road was very appealing. I still remember what our Captain had to say. He didn’t try to convince us not to go have fun. That type of speech to a room full of 22 year olds would not have been effective. Instead, he simply asked us to consider whether or not our “fun” had been properly planned. Did we know who was driving? Had we considered where we might go? Did we have a way to get in touch if somebody got separated from the group? Had we thought about where we would be sleeping? Did we have a back-up plan in case something went wrong? These are the advantages of having an Infantry officer with combat experience helping you with a plan to go out in NYC. His point was a good one, though. Before engaging in any potentially dangerous activity, we might stop to ask: What are the steps of this activity? What are the risks of those steps? What can I do to eliminate those risks? If I can’t completely eliminate those risks, what can I do to protect myself if something does go wrong?