Accidents happen, but oftentimes they can be avoided by asking ourselves one big question before starting each day: “What can hurt me today?” Why is this question so imperative? And is it really worth pausing to think about?
Consider this headline from KFOR News 4 in June: “2 workers dead after falling into Edmond manhole.” According to Deputy Fire Chief Chis Denton, firefighters arrived on the scene and found two men—Alejandro Cabrera, 29, and Emilio Alonzo, 28—25 feet underground in a sewer line that was under construction.
When firefighters sent monitors into the hole, they found that oxygen levels were deficient. After responders pulled the men from the hole, neither of them could be saved.
Since that time, OSHA has fined the employer of the deceased, Belt Construction, $287,150 in penalties after it failed to test oxygen levels in a confined space, according to Construction Dive’s Zachary Phillips. The company also allegedly “failed to provide rescue equipment and training for workers on confined entry procedures.”
Unfortunately, workplace accidents like this one are not isolated incidents. This is why taking a beat to ask, “What can hurt me today?” is vital each and every day.
This one question will make us check ourselves and think about the precautions we should take, including what personal protective equipment (PPE) we should wear, or if there are any hazards that we can mitigate prior to starting work. In this case, for example, thinking about the air quality of the confined space could have saved the lives of both men who went down the manhole.
You may think this is negative or fatalist type thinking, and none of us want to start the day on a low note. But we also don’t want to end the day injured or in the morgue either. That’s why it is important we take the time to recognize hazards early on.
This doesn’t apply just on the job, however. This mindset is important before we begin doing any task. Think about when you mow your lawn. What possible dangers could arise? What can you do to stay safe? Considering these questions will ensure you don’t operate your lawn mower without factory installed guards in place, or without wearing eye protection or closed-toe shoes that could keep flying debris from getting in your eye or injuring your feet.
The same applies to working at your job site, whether you’re in a shop like ours where nearly every machine can injure or kill you if used improperly or working offsite at a mill where there are hazardous chemicals and other conditions in play that could be equally fatal.
Regardless of where we are working, we want to look around our work area and identify the potential dangers we are dealing with, even if we only do it in our head. Doing this mental exercise should be our top priority at the beginning of each day.
However, identifying hazards isn’t enough. We also need to take action and assume ownership of the situation. This means that if we see a potential danger, we need to do our best to remove it from the equation. This will keep you and your colleagues safe and sound.
Employing this critical thinking—asking “What can hurt me today?”—will help us all go home at night in once piece without having sustained any preventable injuries, or worse, such as in the case of the two aforementioned workers.
Remember, do your part and take ownership of safety. If you see something that needs fixed, take care of it or find someone that can. We never want to assume that our colleagues—or even our boss or manager—has noticed every hazard. In the end, it takes each of us to prevent injuries and fatalities from happening at work.