The expression “hindsight is 20/20” sums up the understanding people gain after an unwanted event occurs. But how can people “see” the outcome of an event before it happens, especially when it comes to safely performing tasks in the home or workplace?

One way employers can protect the investments made in human resources is to strengthen the hazard perception skills of their employees. Training employees to recognize existing and potential hazards and developing safe work habits that are consistently reinforced can help employees become aware of their actions and work safely – whether they’re at home or in the workplace.

Based on data collected by the Ambulatory and Hospital Care Statistics Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most unintentional injuries experienced by the 28.3 million people who visited emergency departments in 2008 were caused by falls; motor vehicle traffic; being struck by objects or persons; cutting or piercing instruments or objects; and overexertion and strenuous movements. Since these injuries are similar to the top occupational safety and health hazards faced in the workplace, challenging employees to look beyond the task at hand in order to identify and eliminate the hazards is a necessary skill for safety on and off the job.

Challenge #1: Guard Against Falls

For many employees, roof maintenance and repair, cleaning windows and gutters and performing other work at elevated heights are a part of home projects. However, employees may not always stop to think about the dangers associated with working at heights. Encouraging employees to take notice of small details such as open-sided working platforms, floor holes and ladder length, weight capacity and setup are critical perception skills that can help prevent fall-related injuries. Since slips, trips and falls also occur on the same walking level, developing an awareness of objects in the path of travel can help prevent a fall.

Encourage employees to look for the following hazards:

Open sides and edges. Open-sided floors or platforms should have railings and toeboards along each exposed side. This not only protects the person on the platform, but also those who pass beneath the open sides. Falling tools, equipment or materials can cause serious injuries.

Floor holes. An opening measuring less than 12 inches but more than 1 inch in its least dimension in any floor, platform or pavement can enable materials to fall to a lower level, potentially causing injuries. Larger holes, which people accidentally can walk through, pose significant risks. Employees should ensure that floor holes are securely covered and that the cover will support twice the weight applied.

Improper ladder use. There are several types of ladders used in the home, including straight, extension, step and platform ladders. Since ladders are available in different lengths and weight capacities, select the right ladder for the job by checking the manufacturer’s label for the highest standing level permitted and the duty rating. Also, employees should be aware of proper maintenance and use, especially the simple rule for setting up a ladder at the proper angle – the 4:1 Rule. For every 4 feet up, the ladder should be 1 foot out from the wall.

Objects in the path of travel. The situations that may cause slips, trips and falls often are obvious, but ignored. Employees should make sure that clutter, electrical cords, loose carpeting or flooring and other objects are removed from the path of travel. Wet spots, grease or ice should be addressed immediately to prevent slip, trip and fall hazards.

Challenge #2: Promote Safe Driving

Statistics show that in 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes linked to distraction, and thousands more were injured. The most alarming hazard is texting while driving since it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver. To date, 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have banned text messaging for all drivers. Other types of distractions of which employees should be aware include:

➤ Using a cell phone or smartphone.

➤ Eating and drinking.

➤ Talking to passengers.

➤ Grooming.

➤ Reading (e.g., maps).

➤ Using a navigation system.

➤ Watching videos.

➤ Adjusting a radio or MP3 player.

Turning the cell phone off or creating a message for times of travel is a good (and safe) habit to adopt.