Paying attention: Using “lessons learned” to be safer

Image credit: NIOSH.

How often do we learn about an accident or near miss, only to recognize that the same incident occurred recently during the same or similar operation? What are our excuses?

  • We are busy.
  • We aren’t paying attention.
  • We have too few people doing the job of too many.
  • We are sleepy.
  • We didn’t think it could happen again.
  • Or…we don’t even realize it because we aren’t tracking what is happening and making the changes necessary to prevent it.

A key reason safety and health professionals look to the “hierarchy of controls” to support workplace injury prevention is their effectiveness in limiting the impact of human error.  Hierarchy of hazard control is promoted as standard practice in the workplace as a system to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazards. More recently, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) updated the traditional safety-based hierarchy to represent controls related to Total Worker Health ® principles.

But back to those lessons. How can we use previous incidents to reduce injuries and illnesses?

  1. Thoroughly and carefully review injuries, workplace-induced illnesses and near misses in and around our workplaces. Find ways to control hazards that rank high on the hierarchy of controls, including systematic changes to prevent incidents. For example, removing the possibility of a worker falling from height is preferred to simply training a worker about the risk of falling.
  2. Create a workplace culture where all employees feel appreciated and supported to weigh in about hazards and fixes pertinent to their work, or the work around them. After all, it has been demonstrated again and again that the person who does a task best understands its challenges, and potentially, how work can be improved.
  3. Be diligent in sharing knowledge about lessons learned, both within and beyond our organization.
  4. If we hire contractors or subcontractors: look at their record on safety. Expect of them what we expect for our own workers, and provide them with relevant information to do their job safely.

In addition to using your own organizationally-created lessons, there are a wealth of resources available to further injury and illness prevention, enhance training materials, and improve worker well-being.  Our favorites are listed in our OccHealthSci Resource Directory within the topic page of Safety Toolbox Talks, categorized by subtopics: Lessons Learned, Safety Talks, Online Videos, and Infographics. Do you have other favorite resources or tips?


Image credit: NIOSH.
Image credit: NIOSH.