Give Them a Reason for Safety

Give Them a Reason for SafetyHow do your employees think about safety? Is it just a policy they have to follow? Something that’s just part of the job? Or does it go beyond that?

A great indicator of the way someone thinks about safety is whether they view it as internal or external to them. If all they think about safety is that it’s a compliance regulation they are supposed to follow and enforce, then safety will be just another thing that is externally imposed upon them. They may not mind doing it – but it’s someone else’s idea, not their own. [content_protector password=”gtr4s” identifier=”gtr4s”]

Make no mistake: the way someone thinks about safety impacts how they do their job. If safety is external to them, then it’s essentially “bolted on” to who they are as a person. Something that is bolted on can easily be “unbolted” and set aside when it comes down to making a decision between safe-work procedures and getting the job done.

10-things-safety-culture-change-planThis is why safety communication matters. Pre-shift meetings, toolbox talks and the like, held prior to doing the job that day, allow an opportunity for employees to “get their head in the game.” But too often these meetings become rigid, rote, repetitive caricatures of what they are intended to be. Meeting leaders resort to reading safety points instead of leading safety communication. They do it because it’s expected, not because they see much value in it – resulting in a pencil-whipped, policy-oriented time slot where everyone is tuned out and waiting for it to be over with so they can get to work.

As safety leaders (and I use that term in a non-formal way to include everyone in the organization!) we have to do a better job of connecting safety to things that really matter to employees on the job. It’s probably a safe bet to say that no one in the history of mankind has ever been inspired to work safely because it’s the “policy.” Safety is not about policy (though those things may be required in a legal sense). Instead, safety is about people.

Another New e-Book by safetyBUILT-IN!The thing that matters most to most people is their relationships with other people they care about. If you have kids you can easily relate to this. How many of us started taking fewer risks in life after those kids were born? We didn’t do that for ourselves – otherwise we would have done it a long time ago. How many of us drive a little more carefully when we have our kids in the car? We’re not doing that for ourselves – otherwise we would be doing it all the time. The bottom line is, we’ll do things for the people we love – those who depend on us to make the right decisions by them – that we won’t even do for ourselves!

This is a critical point when it comes to safety communication. If we hope to get employees to internalize safety for themselves, then we must connect the dots between their personal safety and their relationships with the people who matter most to them. Changing our focus from talking about safety as “policy” to safety as “people” can accomplish this.

As an example, you can begin your meeting with informal discussion about what everyone did over the past weekend, or what they plan to do over the next weekend.  Invariably, family will be part of those activities and that discussion. Then start the official meeting by making the point that everyone has plans to do something with their family or friends. Connect that to the hazards of the job they will be doing. Ask something like, “Guys, as you know we’re working with some dangerous equipment today. Before we even get started with our safety meeting, What’s the most important part of this job today?” (the implied response is, “to get home safely so that we can enjoy the weekend activities with loved ones”). FCTC Online

To reinforce this theme, encourage the crew to bring in pictures of their family / friends (or whatever matters most to them), and post them on a bulletin board in the work area (post yours first to set the example!). Place a heading over the pictures that reads something like, “My Reason for Working Safely Today.”  That way everyone has a visual reminder of what matters most.

If the safety meeting has a specific topic, like eye safety or hearing conservation, tie that to their core values: “John, you’ve got a daughter who’s engaged to be married. What are you willing not to see/hear at her wedding?” Keep this kind of conversation organic and spontaneous, and try not to fall into the rut of stating it the same way each time. The key to doing this well is to be natural and speak from your own internalized view of safety. Speak from the heart, and speak about it with passion. That will give everyone else the best opportunity to internalize it for themselves.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES [/content_protector]

About the Author

Eric Svendsen
Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.