When I started my risk management career, my boss told me that after a year, the things I learned would start to change how I viewed the world. Young and naïve, I scoffed at that idea, certain I would never be “an annoying safety person” who lectured others on the importance of using handrails on the stairs.
Now I’m older, wiser, and telling anyone who will listen to grab those darn handrails.
I’ll admit, at times this has made my friends and family label me “the fun police.” When you’ve spent a long time evaluating what can go wrong, your worldview does change. And you can only read so many injury reports about slips and falls on staircases before you see the true value of those handrails.
I don’t live my life in fear. I don’t believe we should face the world dressed in helmets and bubble wrap. Risk and safety professionals, like everyone else, are more than capable of taking shortcuts, rushing, and being generally unaware of their surroundings. Humans are naturally hard-wired to choose the fastest, easiest action, even when it’s not the safest choice.
Instead of preaching about all the things other people should be doing to avoid injury, I’d like to take a different path. Let me tell you about five seemingly mundane choices I made this week that prevented an injury.
I used a stepladder.
At my office, we love festive decorations for holidays and special occasions. When my co-worker’s birthday came around, I wanted to bedazzle her workspace with colorful streamers from floor to ceiling. I was tempted to just stand on a desk chair. After all, it was right there, and the stepladder was stored down the hall. However, I’ve seen enough injury reports to know that makeshift ladders are, quite literally, the downfall of many employees. I resisted the urge and retrieved the stepladder. By using a ladder that actually was designed to support me, I saved myself from injury – and did a much better job with those decorations.
I wiped up a spill.
Like a lot of people, I’m trying to get into the habit of drinking more water, especially as it gets warmer outside. I’m constantly going to the office kitchen to refill my tumbler with ice water. The automatic ice dispenser on the office refrigerator is a fickle contraption and occasionally, ice chips end up on the floor.
Again, my first inclination was to ignore those melting ice chips. What’s the big deal about a few little spots of water on the floor? They won’t stain anything, and they’ll soon evaporate. But those water spots are in the middle of a high traffic area. What would have been easiest for me in the moment could have caused a serious slip and fall incident for the next person to walk into the kitchen.
I put my phone away while driving.
As a risk professional, I’m aware of all the reasons using cell phones while driving is dangerous. I’m just as attached to my phone as everyone else, but, the fact of the matter is that when I use it while driving, it impairs my brain’s ability to evaluate what’s going on around me, making me a danger to myself and others. So I’ve trained myself to put my phone on silent, out of sight and out of reach every time I get ready to drive. I’ve even changed my phone settings so that every email I send finishes with the phrase “sent from my iPhone…BUT NOT WHILE DRIVING!”
I used proper body mechanics.
My company is moving to a new headquarters, and there’s a lot of packing and stacking involved. My body is used to a slouching, sedentary lifestyle, but my brain is programmed to hurry up and finish the task quickly. This creates a recipe for musculoskeletal injury.
It takes real effort and awareness to move the right way. I want to hunch, kneel, and twist. It’s easier and faster, but I know that one false move could lead to serious, long term pain. So I took a moment to make sure my spine was in its natural curve. Then I got close to the load, squatted down and used the power of my legs to lift.
I grabbed the handrail when going down stairs.
Stairs are everywhere. And if you are rushing or your attention is elsewhere, it’s all too easy to lose your balance and take a dangerous tumble. Falls from even a short height can result in serious injuries.
Using a handrail stabilizes your body by allowing you to maintain three points of contact with a stable surface while moving, and that greatly increases your ability to make it up and down the stairs safely. Unlike some of the other choices I made, this one was easy. I didn’t have to break any bad habits or talk myself out of the lazy choice, I just had to slow my pace, reach out and grab hold of the bar.
Simple steps to safety.
Risk and safety professionals speak up because we care – and because we know what can happen when people get careless. I’m just as prone to mistakes as any other person. When I seem like a kill-joy harping on about safety, here’s what I’m really trying to say: Resist the temptation to take the easy route. Consider how your actions, or lack of them, may impact others. Acknowledge your habits and your power to change them. Give yourself permission to slow down and do things the right way.
And grab on to those handrails.
Staff One HR’s Risk Management and Safety team helps our clients with risk assessment surveys, OSHA compliance, workers’ compensation claims, safety training, and much more. Learn more about our services, or contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.