Recently Katie and Stephen Weber from Safety Action attended the National Safety Council Congress and Expo in Chicago, USA, to find out what is happening on the international safety scene. Below are just a few of the ideas and concepts that they came away with.
Is your company really committed to safety? Well then, prove it.
Throughout the conference, the issue of management commitment to safety as a paramount driver for a safe workplace, was consistently brought up for discussion. Commitment in this context meant leaders (CEOs, executives, managers) being prepared to lead from the top down, with the courage to act if safe operations were under threat.
For example, one CEO told all workers that safety was vital for the business and gave his mobile number to every employee in his business.
He told them that if they had any safety concerns that weren’t being addressed to call him day or night – after one call resulted in the issue being fixed within 48 hours, everyone began to understand that this commitment wasn’t just words.
This type of commitment is sometimes called “Active Caring”. It is not enough to say you care, you have to show it. The process of active caring applies to everything in the workplace - not just high risk tasks, and the wearing of PPE - but also housekeeping and focus. To achieve this leaders need to connect with workers and with the reasons they want to be safe e.g. for their families, their children.
Charlie Morecraft, having survived being at the centre of a refinery explosion, spoke of his safety beliefs before and after.
He spoke emotionally about his losses, not just physically but also personally and shared how no-one ever told him that his choice to wear “gear” incorrectly would affect his family relationships. Charlie’s biggest change since his accident has been not to force others to work safely, but to give them an option to “work safe or don’t work here”.
All supervisors need to communicate that they want the work done safely, even if it takes longer. Give your workers the power to work safely and allow them extra time if necessary to work safer. Emphasise that “if the company wants to pay you to take 5 minutes to do a 2 minute job safely, why argue?”
The way you talk impacts the message you give
Scott Geller (PhD, Professor of Psychology) spoke of how the way we speak and the words we choose to use influence whether or not a person will truly understand the need for safer behaviour and if they will change the way they work.
According to Professor Geller, to influence people you need:
- Empathy: Everything we talk about must relate back to the person we are trying to impact. Understand their motivations and interests and remember to explain the why behind what you do/say. The why must link to their motivation.
- Empowerment: When someone comes to you with a problem, encourage them to bring with it a solution. Ask them:
- Can you do it? If they can’t, then they have not been given enough authority or empowerment to act.
- Will it work? Encourage your workers to come up with the details.
- Is it worth it? Let them make a leadership decision on the benefit versus the cost.
Is a “Safety Culture” really enough?
When we talk about a workplace with a good safety culture, in essence we are talking about a workplace were the ‘safe’ way of doing things is the habit of the workers. In contrast to this, many accident findings show that some habits can be a bad thing.
The reasoning behind this is, is that when working from habit or autopilot we get complacent and lose the ability to react to a hazard or to change.
As safety professionals we need to instill safe habits into the workforce without reducing risk awareness. A number of new approaches attempt to personalise the safety risks to the workers through initiatives such as putting family photographs at the hazard point.
The reasoning behind this is that after doing the same task many times over, we need reminders at the point of danger.