A row of dominoes, the fourth domino is tied in a fashion that will not allow it to tip overA lot of experts on workplace safety focus on training employees to have safety constantly on their minds. They expect workers to make a cultural change toward safe behavior. This has definitely been beneficial to the overall safety of workplaces, but there is another step that some experts are missing – prevention.

Work systems should be designed around preventing the possibility of safety hazards. Eventually employees will make a mistake even if they are taught safe practices, so physical measures must be taken to eliminate risk. Workflow procedures should be ordered in a fashion that makes it physically impossible to make a mistake.

For example, any time there is overhead work taking place, a system of tool lanyards should be used to ensure that no equipment has the possibility of falling. Rather than trying to train employees on how to not drop a tool, it’s better to provide employees equipment that makes dropping virtually impossible.

One must be careful not to put too much workplace safety in the hands of people, because people make mistakes. Trusting in a cultural safety mentality will only keep a workplace semi-safe, because people are still given the flexability of making a mistake. Measures should be taken to make a mistake impossible through an adaptation in the workflows and work systems. It is only then that a process can be considered truly safe. The same applies to FME measures. An area cannot be considered foreign material proof until measures are taken to prevent the possibility of foreign material entry: even in the event of an employee mistake.

A real life example helps explain: When crossing the road, people often have a choice of whether to cross in a safe manner. One can be trained on how to look both ways before crossing. A person can be taught the art of crossing at a crosswalk. One can even find an intersection with a crossing guard. Sadly, in all these circumstances, injury can occur. A blind spot or intoxicated driver could cause an incident even if every safety measure is taken to prevent something from happening. Building a foot bridge over that road would be like a modification to a work system in an FME environment – taking the responsibility for safety out of the hands of people. The bridge would eliminate the risk associated with crossing the road, and would make a vehicle-person incident an impossibility. (recognizing that people are enterprising creatures, and would probably find new ways to get injured, but the particular safety issue involving a person and a vehicle has been solved).

Obviously there are costs associated with taking preventative measures to make Foreign Material entry impossible, but careful analysis should be done to determine the need for such measures. In the above example it would be ridiculous to build a bridge over a country road in an area where foot traffic is only seen once a month. But that same bridge would be a necessity over an eight lane highway where thousands of pedestrians need to travel to get to work.