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Worker's sense of invulnerability increases risk

Workers' compensation is expensive. When workers are injured, not only are they no longer available to perform their job duties, but they incur medical expenses and the insurance system pays them a portion of their typical salary. Because of this, safety training is important, as it is always cheaper to avoid a workplace accident than to repair the damage left in its aftermath.

Workers are shown how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and instructed in safe methods and protocols necessary for each job or task. They are often lectured, with slides or handouts showing the statistics and the dangers that lurk if they fail to follow the proper procedures. They may even be read the sections of the CFR, the National Electric Code or the OSHA requirements for fall protection. 

Yet workplace safety professionals are often amazed at how dumbfounded supervisors and other workers are when a worker is severely injured or killed in a workplace accident. Their perception of their vulnerability is forever altered, because they saw the horror that unfolded on a coworker.

So how to provide that perception to workers who have never seen an arc-flash injury?

Better stories. According to some research, workers' perception of risk and their willingness to employ proper safety procedures and equipment are tied to three elements; perceived likelihood, their susceptibility and severity of the injury.

To change the perception, stories and narratives about real workers, which provide a context that translates to "this guy was just like me" are more effective than merely relating the electric code sections that mandate why they need to use one procedure over another.

When workers genuinely understand their risks, they are more likely to follow safe practices and reduce their chance of injury.

Source: ASSE.org, "The Value of Vulnerability Helping Workers Perceive Personal Risk," Anna H.L. Floyd and H. Landis Floyd II, April 2014

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