Position Your Environment for Safety
by Garrison Wynn, CSP
Knowing that safety is important clearly is not enough to create (or even put a dent in creating) incident-free environments. Most of us have heard the messages "Safety First" and "Target Zero," but these messages haven't produced the buy-in for which we might have hoped.
To get a high level of repeatable buy-in, the message from leadership must be very clear and simple to implement. It also means that we have to be realistic about what's working. Have you noticed that the job site with the best safety record typically is the one where the boss makes everyone feel valuable, the people seem to trust one another and everyone gets along well? Most research confirms that when people feel valuable, they make fewer mistakes. They are more loyal, and they watch out for each other. They are consistently willing to do more of what they are asked to do. All of that results in dramatically fewer incidents and a true culture of safety. But, how do you make that happen in your organization or at your location?
Here are seven ways to make sure your environment is positioned to reduce incidents:
- Beware of mixed messages. "Hey, be safe, but hurry up! Don't be so safe that we can't make any money!" The real message should be "Let's get it done before 5 p.m. – but if you get outside the safety guidelines, rethink it."
- Make sure the people around you understand that you have their back. They will be more likely to have yours. Watch your behavior and treat others with respect.
- Be realistic about how people feel about safety procedures. If you have a process or situation that everyone makes fun of or complains about, look into it and make adjustments. Nothing is more dangerous than expecting people to be protected by things they obviously don't believe in.
- Remember that many accidents happen indoors in office environments. Approximately 76,000 people each year are hospitalized because they put their feet on their desks and leaned back in a chair. Acting like a big shot not only is obnoxious; it's apparently dangerous!
- Communication skills are the foundation of safety. Let people talk about what's important to them before you tell them your opinions. People who feel heard are much more likely to listen to you. To make safety happen, you need to have a level of influence that enables your words to create action in others. If people see their input in your safety solution, they are much more likely to have buy-in and much less likely to be injured.
- Don't tell young coworkers how brave you were "back in the day" before modern safety equipment. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, and that especially means our younger brothers and sisters.
- Make sure you can clearly explain the value of a safety procedure or policy in 30 seconds. People buy into what they quickly understand. The leading addiction on the planet is not drugs or alcohol; it's convenience. People will consistently abandon a safe process that's complicated for an unsafe one that's not. Keep it simple.
Whether you are a leader who is driving safety forward or just a person on the job trying to be good at what you do without being hurt, influence is required. Are you influential enough to make safety happen around you? Do you have the trust and the relationships in place to help safety concepts and procedures remain effective?