Two concepts common to work operations which are typically used for different purposes and reasons are safety and common sense. While seemingly unrelated, these concepts sometimes come crashing together after an occurrence, near miss, incident, or accident. The question of why an employee was not working safely is often answered with a comment on the employee’s ability to use common sense when performing their work.
SAFETYSafety is defined as “freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss; the action of keeping safe.” Safety in work operations is the removal of risk.
COMMON SENSECommon sense is the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonably safe way. We acquire this practical knowledge and judgment through our own life experiences as well as others’, making common sense truly a shared experience. For example, while growing up, we learn not to grab onto a hot stove, either by having a negative experience and experiencing the pain ourselves, or by being told by someone else that it will burn.
It is often presumed we all possess the same level of common sense. This is where the issue comes into work operations when it is said that an employee should use common sense when working. That employee’s life experiences are unique to him/her. What if that employee never grabbed that hot stove, never walked out close to an open edge, or never worked around crane operations and knew to look up? If not, did someone else share their experiences with that employee to create “common sense”?
In January 2018, a young man, husband, and father of a three-year-old daughter in lost his life at his job in Houston, Texas when he got caught in an industrial tire shredder. It was his fourth day on the job. “Common sense” would dictate to not stick any part of one’s body into or close to a shredder while it is operating. Why, then, did this young man do so?
Does it have anything to do with intelligence? Is it possible that someone with a higher level of education would not have made the same choice that led to his death? What if that highly-educated individual had never worked around an industrial shredder?
Perhaps the young man’s life experiences led him to make choices that, at that point in time, made sense to him. These are all rhetorical questions, but the real question to be asked is, “What type of training or guidance did he receive?” Did anyone tell him, “Do not touch that hot stove or it will burn you”?
INTEGRATING COMMON SENSE AND SAFETY iN THE WORKPLACE
Effective and frequent training is the driving force to heighten the level of common sense among employees in work operations. Four key elements to maximizing an employee’s common sense are:
It’s important to also teach employees to ask a few questions before beginning their work operations, such as:
Remember that what’s usually referred to as common sense is actually the aggregation of all knowledge gained through one’s own life experiences and education, and the ways that individual makes decisions as a result. Assuming that all employees possess the same level of experience and knowledge is a mistake that could cost someone their life.
Ray Ruiz is a Loss Control Manager with The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. Prior to joining AEU in 2014, Ray worked for a large shipyard in Port Arthur, Texas. Ray holds numerous certifications from OSHA and the Texas Department of Health. He is a Shipyard Competent Person and certified in HAZWOPER, Radiological Emergency Management, First Aid and CPR. He received an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Environmental Safety and Health, with specialization in Occupational Safety and Health from Texas State Technical College.