Safety Scenarios: Human Errors in Construction can Turn into Deadly Mistakes
Human error is the single biggest cause of construction accidents—it’s behind up to 90 percent of all accidents.
It goes something like this: despite the training that we’ve received, we decide to take a shortcut or try a new way to solve a problem. Sometimes, even though we know the rules, we choose to ignore them or we just forget them that day.
In construction, those human foibles and misjudgments can easily turn into injuries and fatalities. All it takes is a few seconds and a lapse. How do you guard against those split-second distractions and errors that put life and business at risk?
To err is human
We’ve all had a bad day at work; maybe there’s a worker who got less than optimal sleep, is worried about a personal situation, or had an argument with a co-worker or family member. Because of this, he forgoes wearing the safety harness and falls through a loose floorboard.
Our minds are elsewhere as we go through our daily routines, and that can bleed into the professional work environment. This leads to human error that can cause serious workplace accidents.
Human error in the construction industry falls into three main categories:
Slips and lapses
Errors can be made inadvertently by experienced workers during routine activities. In this scenario, a worker knows that the harness is an important piece of equipment, but his mind is elsewhere. So, he heads up to the job site without it. Within minutes, the error has occurred.
Decisions that are subsequently found to be wrong, even though the person making the mistake believed his action to be correct at the time. Perhaps the worker just didn’t think the harness was necessary for the type of work he was doing that day. After all, he was only up on the third floor of the building.
Purposeful deviations from rules for safe operation of equipment or job performance. The harness was uncomfortable to wear for the worker. Would anyone really notice or care if he didn’t wear it that once?
Companies invest time and resources in training and reinforcing the rules in order to prevent accidents. Notices are posted around the workplace and construction sites to constantly remind everyone of the necessary rules, yet the simplest of actions can have an incredibly negative impact.
Controlling human behavior is extremely difficult. However, safety management software can help you track and analyze the factors that lead to human error and quickly put preventative procedures in place. Identifying the common causes of slips, mistakes, and violations will help you improve your training and coach employees who make mistakes.
Close to 1,000 people are injured or die each year from construction accidents. Knowing where the human errors occur most frequently is an important step in preventing them from happening at your workplace or job site.
Knowing isn’t enough, however. You must create a true safety culture, making the right kind of training available to everyone at a time and place that works for them.
Technology can save humans
Automated training and reminder systems work towards preventing human error in construction. Monitoring accidents caused by human errors in your own company is a good way to start. Using a software solution, you can record and analyze the most common errors, as well as any repeat offenders. These insights will help you create training protocols that work for you and your team.
Technology can also serve as a reminder to take the necessary precautions. When we get into our cars, an annoying tone will remind us that we haven’t fastened our seat belt or turned off the emergency brake. Some devices won’t even operate unless we’ve taken the proper safety precautions. Something as simple as monitoring the use of safety equipment can prevent countless injuries. Human error stands little chance against stubborn tech!
No one likes to sit in a classroom hearing an authority figure tell them what to do. In fact, one brewery named its beer “Smells Like a Safety Meeting.” Safety training doesn’t have to be boring and tedious.
Technology-based training systems can help reinforce rules and procedures in the workplace in a much more efficient and effective way than the occasional mention during a toolbox meeting. Online training is a great supplement to traditional training and has many benefits, including:
consistency across multiple locations and languages,
availability anywhere and anytime,
readily accessible information,
positive feedback to workers,
progress monitoring, and
graphic and compelling content; real-life and relevant examples of accidents which add credibility to the learning process.
In the case of the missed or forgotten harness, software may be used to ensure that proper training has occurred regarding the use of safety devices. The team or person responsible for the training is also conveniently documented and kept in the cloud. Photos from job sites can also be captured and archived, so the people or team responsible for human errors is not left to hearsay or memory.
Professional courses, like this one from Georgia Tech, have been developed specifically around training to recognize and prevent human errors. SafetyTek’s Employee Training Matrix then makes it simple to identify any gaps in training across the board.
Technology-based tracking and training are just two steps towards preventing human error in the construction industry. The International Risk Management Institute stresses that management must also “create a climate of trust and cooperation, fostering empowerment and engagement, resulting in optimal performance.”
In short, along with taking full advantage of tech tools, you must encourage every worker to take safety procedures seriously, follow the rules, and feel comfortable discussing opportunities for improvement.
Learning from mistakes is critical
Despite your best efforts to track and train, accidents will happen. They can become learning tools. Using real-life scenarios to reinforce the importance of safety measures can be very effective.
For example, you might ask the worker who fell to share this story of human error (via online video) with his co-workers. Peer education can be even more effective than other types of training and education.
Discuss why accidents happen and engage your work team in the conversation. Creating a culture of psychological safety where people can express their concerns, suggestions, and solutions can be as important as physical safety. Encourage your workers to gently “call out” their peers when they see safety breaches.
Human error in construction is only one scenario that can have disastrous implications. Risk management starts with understanding what can go wrong and where the weak spots are in your business and your team.