We constantly demonstrate behaviors that are observable to others. In a workplace, these observations are significant for preventing accidents and injuries and need to be encouraged, supported and taken seriously. Peers (co-workers) are critical to the implementation and success of observation, feedback and safe work practices.

There are three specific ways co-workers exhibit behavior and actions that warrant attention.

The safest behaviors, which deserve praise, are those exhibited by workers who are focused and attentive to what they are doing. The second category involves workers who are automatically or habitually performing tasks that are routine and conducted on a regular schedule. The risk level on these tasks rises when the conditions change and are not recognized by participants.

Lastly, there are tasks that present a high risk of human error because of emotional reactions to the task, or because of an individual's emotional state while doing the task. All of these behaviors are observable by others.

Peer-to-peer observations are a "brother's keeper" approach that will produce many positive benefits including maximizing the potential of a safe workplace. In order to be a good observer, a person needs first to be aware of his/her awareness of safe work practices.

Secondly, tune into the behavior being observed. Determine if the person being observed appears to be emotionally reacting or in control. Then, ask the observed person a question to help him/her evaluate what he/she is doing or about to do.

For example, you have determined the person is not emotional but is likely performing a routine task, possibly not fully paying attention. Try a simple question like, "How's it going?" This gets the person's attention and opens the line of communication. Proceed from there and start discussing the task as part of your conversation.

If the person appears upset or emotional, ask a more direct or specific question. For example, "Hey, is this task giving you a challenge?" If the person is upset, don't be taken back by a negative response like, "No, mind your own business." Respond back by giving feedback on the behavior you are observing: "Sorry, I just noticed that you were slamming things around, and I was wondering if I might lend a hand."

The main objective is to help get the person out of the emotional state and into an intellectual, active thinking state. Many times when people realize they are being observed, they will adjust their behaviors and regain control. Regaining control is the main objective when attempting to help emotionally driven people.

If a peer sees a co-worker about to do a task and feels the co-worker is not prepared to do it safely, here's a simple plan to follow for observing and giving feedback.

1. Ask a question to raise awareness and generate a conversation.

2. Focus awareness on the task and what specific behavior was observed to generate this discussion.

3. Talk about conditions that exist, focusing on those conditions that might create challenges and possible human errors.

4. Discuss options that appear to be available, and decide on the safest and most productive behavior for completing the task safely.

5. Stand by to assist if time permits. If it requires additional assistance, hold the task until this assistance can be secured.

Peer-to-peer observation is based on perception. Perception is the truth as you see it, not necessarily as it actually is. In situations involving safety, it is better to error by being "overly concerned" as opposed to ignoring a possibly unsafe action.

This can be accomplished by observing the conditions and behaviors related to a task, keeping an open mind, and being willing to provide feedback on what you are observing. Keep the process positive by focusing on what can be done to improve behavior or conditions. This effort benefits all involved.