Winter-related work injuries are more likely to occur at the end of a task

With record-breaking frigid temperatures and irritatingly large amounts of snowfall in the Northeast region of the country, many people are bundling up and getting outside to shovel and climb ladders to clear roofs and gutters. Not surprisingly, more shivering people on ladders means more falls and resulting injuries. But some injuries might not just be […]

With record-breaking frigid temperatures and irritatingly large amounts of snowfall in the Northeast region of the country, many people are bundling up and getting outside to shovel and climb ladders to clear roofs and gutters.

Not surprisingly, more shivering people on ladders means more falls and resulting injuries. But some injuries might not just be inevitable because of the nature of the job. They could be because toward the end of a task, it’s easier to rush or overreach because of a false sense of confidence or simply being ready to be done and getting back inside.

Hospitals in the affected regions have seen a spike in ER visits for rib and spine fractures as a result of roof and ladder falls, and nearly 200,000 emergency room visits and roughly 300 deaths are linked to ladder falls each year, according to Consumer Reports.

Neil Swidey discussed this phenomenon known as normalization, which frequently leads people to accept looser cautionary standards in the name of greater speed, for the Harvard Business Review.

In everything from small home-improvement tasks to public infrastructure megaprojects, injuries and deaths tend to happen late in the job, when confidence runs high and tolerance for delays dips especially low.

The more people do something without suffering a bad outcome, the harder it becomes for them to remain aware of the risks associated with that behavior.  The most obvious example of this in everyday life is texting while driving. Most of us have been guilty of this risky behavior, even if we don’t want to admit it. And if we’ve never suffered an accident as a result of all of furtive thumbing from behind the wheel, we might have even fooled ourselves into thinking we’re just better at it than most people. We’re not. That’s simply the seductive yet slippery power of normalization at work.

So for the parts of the country that don’t necessarily have a a light at the end of the tunnel quite yet, be aware of normalization when you tackle winter household maintenance. Yes, easier said than done when it’s freezing, but taking the extra time to move the ladder to avoid overreaching is obviously way better than a visit to the ER.

[Photo from Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey]