I had time recently to reflect on what I had learned while I attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. From that reflection I remember three important things echoed from my Infantry Drill Sergeant that hold true in Safety. These lessons are common across the Army, but not as common in the civilian world, so I figured I’d share these wisdoms.
Lesson 1 “Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast”
Those words were echoed by my Drill Sergeant while I was attempting to qualify with my assigned M16. When first heard, the expression sounds counterintuitive, how could going slow actually make me faster? Well for starters multiple factors come into play when firing a weapon, breathing, trigger squeeze, and site picture to name a few. But, the slower and smoother that you can handle these factors, better results will occur with increased effective and accurate fire toward the target.
This same principle can be applied to safety in the workplace. All too often we hear the term “hurry up, but be safe.” The implication from these terms is get the job as quick as possible with whatever tools necessary. However, many accidents and injuries can be prevented if the worker uses a slower, but smoother pace of work and constantly thinking and pre-planning for the next step and potential hazard.
Lesson 2 “Stay in Your Lane”
Not to get too bogged down in Military tactics, but essential while assaulting a position, the group assaults forward walking in your assigned “lane.” This lane is a straight line that you walk in, you do not deviate left of right as you might walk into the firing lane of your battle buddy. The good thing about staying in your lane is that you know exactly what sector of fire is your responsibility. It sounds easy enough, but walking in a straight line with obstacles, like thorns and bushes, creates hazards. Therefore, effective training is needed to ensure this concept is maintained.
This same concept can be applied to new workers trying to learn to stay in their lane. However, obstacles and hazards always present themselves. Studies have found that new employees are SIX Times more likely to be injured in the first month, than workers with more than one-year experience. So, effective safety and task training is essential to ensure they know their roles and responsibilities. An effective way to do that is through new hire employee orientation and using a mentor system.
Lesson 3 “Get Smart or Get Strong”
This concept seems simple, learn from your mistakes and the less time you will be in the front-leaning rest position (the push-up). Unfortunately, with thrown into a random group of people, sometimes people learn at different paces. And for my basic training platoon we got stronger than smarter.
In the workplace having smarter workers is far superior to “stronger” workers. A worker that relies on strength alone will eventually overexert himself/herself. For injuries that lasted over 6 days, overexertion (lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing) was discovered to be the reason for 25.3% of the injuries. The direct cost alone of these injuries was $15.1 billion! A simple way to avoid these injuries is to be smarter; use proper lifting techniques, ask for help when lifting, and use mechanical equipment to aid in lifting that requires little to know exertion. So, don’t just rely on getting stronger, focus on getting smarter.
Although simple, remembering these three basic principles can be applied to the culture of your safety program and hopefully press the mindset to stay safe and remember the lessons of those before you.