Seeing workplace dangers hiding in plain sight

Mar 19 2019

The National Safety Council wants employees to employ a more artistic approach when it comes to potential hazards. While no one is drawing Tippy or painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, they are being tasked to look at their work surroundings in an entirely new way.

Welcome to “visual literacy,” an “art of seeing art” concept introduced by The Toledo Museum of Art to the occupational safety field in 2015. While an art museum and a manufacturing plant seem worlds apart, common ground has been established.

Instead of words, visual literacy helps gain understanding through images. A high-profile example would be the introduction of USA Today in 1982. The paper was controversial early on with claims of all flash and no substance. Yet, the publication would go on and change the publishing industry. At first blush, what caught the attention of readers beyond the concise stories were the color images and easy-to-read informational graphics. Simply put, the paper helped changed how readers looked at their daily news.

The “Find It Fix It” program was established on the theory that 90 percent of information consumed is visual in nature. An employee working in the same area and seeing the same surroundings day after day will eventually overlook the finer details. Those images begin to lose their importance, leading to “inattentional blindness” to details that can result in serious injuries.

Following the completion of their training, the 225-member staff at Cummins Inc., were placed on the front lines to identify dangers that have previously been in plain sight the entire time.

 The hazard recognition initiative lived up to its title and bore results. Staff successfully identified 132 safety problems and facilitated the correction of 17 slip/trip and fall risks and nine machine hazards. Study results also confirmed that staff were able to perceive greater risks in a variety of categories.

Keep an eye out for visual literacy. It may be coming to a workplace near you.