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Drive Down Risk Through Stop Work Authority

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Avoiding injury requires empowerment of all employees to stop work when significant hazards are identified.

Stop work authority is a safety program where all employees are empowered to stop work activity they perceive as a risk to their safety. Stop work authority also extends to at-risk work performed by others. This decentralized approach gives all employees the authority to remove themselves, or others, from potentially unsafe situations. Traditional management models require employees to first approach their supervisor when they identify a dangerous scenario. Stop work authority reinforces the philosophy that safety is everyone’s responsibility. 

Many years ago, one of our most experienced safety consultants, Luis Paz, was conducting safety observations and audits for a Horton Safety Consultants’ sewer and water contractor. Luis observed a laborer working in an unprotected trench adjacent to a road. Concerned for his safety, Luis asked the employee to get out of the trench so he could explain what needed to be done to make the trench safe. Within minutes of leaving the trench, a large piece of concrete roadway broke off falling into the trench where the worker was standing. Weighing several tons, the large piece of concrete likely would have killed the worker.

Many safety programs and techniques tend to be robotic and mechanical in nature, including stop work authority. We tend to forget the reason why we have these programs… to prevent the pain, suffering, and death of a human being. Luis’ actions, occurring years before stop work authority became popular, were motivated by his desire to keep a worker safe and allow him to return home safely to his family.

Messaging is important, but the manner in which the message is delivered is critical. Stop work authority delivered the wrong way can alienate the worker, resulting in resentment. The way Luis handled the situation was to ask the worker to leave the trench so he could explain what needed to be done to make the trench safe. Safety programs are about the preservation of life and health, not the mechanical execution of programs and strategies. The more we apply that principle in our daily work, the more lives we will save. How many injuries could you prevent through implementation of an effective stop work authority program?

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.