Empowering employees to adopt new safety practices can be a safety manager’s greatest challenge. What one person considers unsafe or dangerous, another person may view as acceptable.
In construction, shortcuts can become common practice. Managing health and safety is more than writing rules and training employees how to follow them; it’s making sure all workers understand the need for undertaking work in a safe manner. Here are eight things safety managers don’t want to hear.
1. That’s not how I learned to do it
OSHA changes its policies with new updates and recommendations each year. It’s important to stay abreast of industry knowledge and best practices in order to learn new ways to perform tasks better and in a safer manner. If employees aren’t adapting to those new processes, a company may lose potential iterative improvements. Even if that company has been in the industry for decades, that doesn’t mean it knows everything about it. The world is changing rapidly and it’s vital to be willing to learn something new sometimes, if not every day. By creating a culture that encourages innovation and learning, safety managers and employees can all progress toward the common goal of maintaining a safe workplace.
2. I was on a deadline so I didn’t use [insert safety equipment here]
Stories about workers who think “it will be alright” before performing a high-risk activity are all too common. An extra two minutes to prepare a harness can make all the difference. When people are rushing, corners are cut. When working with heights, for example, the outcome of cutting corners can be fatal. OSHA reports that the leading cause of deaths on construction sites result from falls; that’s 39 percent of 4,251 worker fatalities in 2014.
3. That’s not my job
Rather than cultivating an individualistic attitude within an organization, strive to have employees watch out for one another. Aviation experts draw on “team intelligence” where they understand every individual contributes to outcomes. The last thing an airline copilot needs is to hear is “that’s not my job” and see things go disastrously wrong. Companies are constantly growing and expanding, so sometimes employees will be asked to take on tasks that aren’t noted within the job description. That employee could even pick up a new skill or find that he/she enjoys the challenge. Safety management is every employee’s responsibility.
4. I didn’t have time to conduct that audit
With the introduction of auditing technology, it only takes a few minutes to perform a comprehensive inspection complete with an instant report of findings. Audits simply need to be a priority, both at management levels and among frontline workers. Evidence and research has shown that checklists work.
Contrary to popular belief, safety isn’t about catching or punishing workers for doing the wrong thing. Keeping safety in the forefront of each person’s mind is a continuous job. A behavioral-based approach to safety is a movement that focuses on trust-building and care over fear-based approaches. Trust has been consistently demonstrated to be a leading predictor of improved safety performance. In a study focusing on the mining industry, Gunningham and Sinclair (2012) found that “…unless the mistrust of the workforce can be overcome, then even the most well-intentioned and sophisticated management initiatives will be treated with cynicism and undermined.”
6. I don’t need a checklist for that
Atul Gawande describes in his best-selling novel, Checklist Manifesto, that most critical mistakes occur due to ineptitude and ignorance. The aviation industry recognizes that human error is inevitable and has embedded the use of checklists into their workers’ DNA. As a result, fewer aircraft accidents occur because pilots turn to the checklist in moments of catastrophe. Time and time again, checklists have proven their worth, even proving more superior than pilots’ own sense of judgement.
7. I didn’t read the new safety procedures. Can you give the highlights?
While safety managers want to be available to educate at any time, they put a lot of time and effort into rolling out new procedures, so it’s important to give them the time they deserve. In saying that, safety managers should be making it as easy as possible for new workers to understand updates and changes to the way they work. Too often safety procedures are made by the desk-bound worker who doesn’t have a sense of the practical application. It’s critical that these different roles work together toward a common goal and maintain constant lines of communication.
8. I didn’t feel I could speak up
A lot of risky behavior gets overlooked at workplaces these days. Aviation is commonly mentioned, but they really are the world leaders in safety. Pilots viewed error as a weakness and often looked to blame before the industry’s’ rapid cultural transformation. Now in the cockpit, errors are dealt with immediately. The roles of the copilot and team members are not to blindly obey orders as it was in the past, but to have a voice in the decision-making process.
Understanding the reasons behind a worker’s attitude and taking a psychological approach to safety and risk can help managers be more attentive and empower their workers to think of safety first.