Safety consultant: Speak up to achieve safety excellence

By |  March 22, 2016

Zach Knoop, a senior safety consultant at Caterpillar Safety Services, asked two straightforward questions to aggregate producers at the start of an AGG1 Academy educational session he led in Nashville, Tenn.

The first: How many of you want your employees to speak up when they see something unsafe? More than 90 percent of the hands in the room shot up in response.

Knoop’s second question: How many of you have done the work to educate your employees about how to speak up? Significantly fewer hands rose – maybe 30 percent – underscoring the challenges employees face communicating unsafe situations with others.

“The communication side of safety is critical to the excellence of safety,” says Knoop, who adds that about 90 percent of accidents happen because of unsafe behaviors while about 10 percent occur due to unsafe working conditions.

Yet, despite the high percentage of behavior-based accidents, many efforts to thwart accidents are focused on unsafe working conditions. The industry focuses on the 10 percent largely because the Mine Safety & Health Administration focuses its efforts in that area, Knoop adds. But unsafe working behaviors – and why they occur – must also be addressed.

Unsafe behaviors happen for a number of reasons, Knoop says. Because a person is short on time, because a behavior isn’t understood as unsafe, because an organization simply accepts a behavior as OK, and because of other reasons. Fear of confrontation may shy an employee away from addressing an unsafe working behavior with another, but a company culture and its norms can change with three simple steps, according to Knoop.

The steps:

1. Ask. Find out why someone is doing something unsafely, and ask if you can share your concerns. “When you ask questions, you can find out more about the answer,” Knoop says.

2. Get a commitment. Work together to create a safer way of doing something and explain that you care. “Have a dialogue,” he suggests. “Ask, ‘what do you think we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.'”

3. Follow up. Make sure someone is doing a task safely the next time, and give the person positive feedback if they are. “If it becomes a ‘get-out-of-my-face’ [encounter] then it becomes a management issue,” Knoop says.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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