Are you looking for a way to improve your company’s hazard identification efforts? Consider implementing stop-work authority, which provides each individual the right, responsibility, and authority to stop work, without fear of retribution, if they believe working conditions are unsafe.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concurs with the stop-work authority approach, stating: “The best safety and health programs involve every level of the organization instilling a safety culture that reduces accidents for workers and improves the bottom line for managers. When safety and health are part of the organization and a way of life, everyone wins.”
OSHA also supports workers’ right to refuse dangerous work without retribution. This is part of the employer’s responsibility to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.
Providing workers the ability to stop work to avoid injury or property damage might sound simple, but there are several behavioral challenges.
According to Peter G. Furst, organizational and human performance consultant for Furst Group, certain psychological factors can make a stop-work authority decision challenging. These factors include diffusion of responsibility, the bystander effect, and pluralistic ignorance.
Diffusion of responsibility is any situation in which a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction, when other workers are present.
The bystander effect is a phenomenon of people being less likely to offer help, when others are present.
Pluralistic ignorance involves situations where the majority of workers internally reject the norm, but incorrectly assume most others accept it, so they go along with it.
Workers also may hesitate to stop work, when they do not consider the situation hazardous enough to present a high likelihood of harm believing they do not have the authority to get involved, assuming others may know something that they do not, are afraid of alienating a coworker by calling attention to an unsafe practice or situation, or fearing the potential to anger their supervisor.
To address these concerns, stop-work authority must include each employee, contractor, and visitor. Individuals must understand that they will not be expected to perform any task or accept any directive that they believe is unsafe to themselves or others. In addition, anyone who feels that a hazard exists will stop work immediately. This results in individuals taking responsibility for personal safety and the safety of others.
The stop-work authority process should include steps that employees can be taught and that can be implemented in the work environment. Consider these simple procedural steps:
1. Stop: An employee will stop work when he or she identifies an unsafe condition or behavioral action that poses danger to person(s), equipment, or the environment.
2. Notify: Employees and supervisors will notify affected employees and make the immediate area as safe as possible.
3. Analyze: Employees and supervisors will analyze the unsafe condition or behavior and agree that work should be stopped.
4. Correct: Employees and supervision will correct the condition or behavior prior to restarting work.
5. Communicate: Supervisors will communicate the stop-work incident to others throughout the organization. This may involve employees and supervisors completing a stop-work authority incident form that outlines the hazards, concerns, corrective actions, and lessons learned.
Training employees on the stop-work authority’s purpose and the process is critical. Each person must understand that the stop-work authority’s purpose is to protect each person, property, and the environment. They must understand that they are expected to stop work and that they can do so without retribution. Training also should review the company’s stop-work policy, the process for reporting and addressing incidents, and how to identify hazards.
As with other similar programs, such as near-miss reporting, stop-work incidents should be encouraged and tracked. The goal is to increase participation in the safety process and identify hazardous conditions and behaviors throughout the work environment. Incidents should be communicated throughout the organization. Hazards present in one work environment or work area may exist in others as well.
Conclusion. If you are looking for a new way to empower employees and increase participation in the hazard identification process, consider implementing stop-work authority. A successful process will require developing a program that includes a clear definition of the purpose, a policy/procedure for implementing the process, and employee training. Stop-work authority leads to employees taking responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others. It is the ultimate form of collaboration.
Gaddis, S. (2019, Dec. 2). Stop Work Authority: A Principled-Based Approach. ohsonline.com/Articles/2019/12/02/Stop-Work-Authority-A_Principaled_Approach.
Bush, J. (2018, July 26). Stop-Work Authority: Empowering Workers to Halt Unsafe Situations. safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/print/17242-stop-work-authority.
Joe Mlynek is a safety consultant for Progressive Safety Services LLC, Port Clinton, OH; 216-403-9669; and content expert for Safety Made Simple LLC, Olathe, KS.
- From the July/August 2021 GRAIN JOURNAL