Hazard Recognition – SEE beyond what you normally SEE
November 20, 2019
Organizations continuously strive for improvement in their safety results. There is an endless list of tools used by organizations to help manage the HSE risk on a day-to-day basis. The tools used by your organization may have slightly different names, but they all have one underlying purpose – to protect the health and safety of all parties involved. Organizations routinely train and educate their employees on hazard recognition, risk perception, risk analysis techniques, PPE requirements, as well as documentation of workplace safety programs and incidents.
But, do we educate our employees about the role “SEEING” plays in safety performance? Do we train them to “SEE” the whole “PICTURE”?
These are some vital questions we need to ask ourselves in the context of HSE risk management. Workers do not commit errors or injure themselves or their co-workers, intentionally. In fact, human factors combined with latent hazards result in deadly safety outcomes. Research has shown that we typically only see 10% of the visual data in front of us. It doesn’t matter if that data is a picture, words, numbers, or a physical work environment with equipment and people.
So, what about the other 90%?
Our brain fills in the other 90% influenced by unconscious biases established by past experiences, education, culture, background, etc. This means that we all don’t necessarily see the same things, the same way, or interpret them in the same way. This innate coping mechanism of the brain leads to errors caused by bias, assumption, and miscommunication. Making assumptions and overlooking what’s right in front of us often leads to preventable mistakes.
Experienced employees sometimes operate on auto-pilot, often repeating the same routines and processes on a daily basis. Oftentimes a safety hazard may be staring them in the face but they fail to recognize it or in other words fail to SEE it. This inattentiveness and inability to SEE the entire picture results in failure to recognize potential hazards, poor pre-job safety analysis, lack of process understanding, inadequate incident investigation, and decision-making bias. This problem affects staff at every level, from the front-line operator to a supervisor, plant manager, and safety executives.
So, another approach to safety management in the workplace is “visual literacy.” It centers on the concept that visual inattentiveness hinders hazard identification. Visual literacy is a methodology that equips an organization’s workforce with the skills to more effectively, SEE. This concept focuses on processing visual information more efficiently, a method to SEE better: to identify, interpret, and interact with the environment based on accurate visual information. It teaches you to slow down, look deeply, and see things you may have missed — critical for identifying hazards and preventing costly mistakes. At the core of this approach, is the ability to SEE the whole picture. This helps you contextualize and comprehend what you SEE, raising your awareness of hazards, as well as how to resolve them.