Ihaven't written about construction safety in awhile. I used to write about it every Thursday. I just read an ENR editorial Analyzing Near-Misses Is Key to An Effective Safety Plan. It reminded me of how far we need to go in construction. Our industry kills about 1300 people in the US every year. Thousands of others are seriously injured. Yet, there are far more dangerous industries where people are not getting hurt at anywheres near the construction rates. Alcoa has made amazing strides to create an injuring-free workplace in their smelters. Dupont's chemical operations as dangerous as those processes are don't result in anything near the injuries of construction. These companies and many others across industries all have one thing in common that is fundamentally missing in construction. They systematically learn from each anomaly, variance, problem and near-miss. It's an approach that separates Toyota from all the other auto manufacturers. It's an approach that we can adopt today for safety.
They systematically learn from each anomaly, variance, problem and near-miss.Near-misses happen all the time. I could be working on a ladder and drop a screwdriver. That's a near-miss. No one needs to be under the ladder, they don't even need to be in the work area. That I dropped the screwdriver is unintended and potentially injurious. In the usual situation I might say, "Oops!" getting down off the ladder, retrieving my screwdriver, and going back to work. However, someone could have been injured, or worse. It's exactly this kind of situation that we need to investigate. If we can learn why that incident happened, then we have a chance to prevent it from ever happening again. How do we do that? We call attention to our mistake and get to the root cause.
Toyota practices getting to the root cause by asking why 5 times. It's a process that takes place at the time of the variance, with the people who were present to the variance and for the purpose of learning. There's no finger-pointing or blame. People bring sincere curiosity to learn. It's doesn't take long. But it does take the courage to call attention to what isn't working, especially when it's something that I did wrong.
It does take the courage to call attention to what isn't working, especially when it's something that I did wrong.Amazing results come from doing a Good 5-Why™. One top-ten design and engineering firm that has started the practice is getting a dozen or more improvements from each 5-why. Imagine what we could do on the construction job site if we began the practice of investigating each variance and "oops". It wouldn't be long before real gains were made in making it a far safer place.