Having a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old that know how to push each other’s buttons, I know the value of silence. Silence can truly be a blessing but can also prove to be an obstacle that prevents safety performance from achieving greatness.
A while back I watched a well-produced public broadcasting special that provided an in-depth look at the Newtown, CT tragedy where 26 beautiful children and teachers were killed at the hands of a very disturbed young adult. The investigative program went into detail about the troubled history of the murderer and how there were many signs about his illness and likely intent to cause harm. Teachers, friends and even family knew that the boy was in trouble. Some attempted to help while others choose not say anything. That television program got me wondering about the guilt that some people carry by choosing to remain silent. “If only I had said something and intervened.”
As an employer you know you’re on the right path to developing a world-class safety culture when employees are not just expected to speak up when something is unsafe, but they actually do. This understanding that all employees are empowered to intervene is critical to breaking the sequence of events that leads to an injury. Let’s look at the obstacles and challenges that are present when trying to develop an environment where employees desire to speak up.
Risk tolerance. Some people enjoy the thrill of skydiving while others believe it to be too risky. Not many people walk away after having fallen 15,000 feet and their parachute not opening. This tolerance for risk is variable and that is why in the eyes of some people certain hazardous conditions and behavior is acceptable. It is therefore necessary to make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to what is acceptable and what is not. This can be achieved through daily planning and safety huddles to clarify acceptable conditions and behaviors.
Priorities. Does the company value production, quality, and customer service over safety? Only when safety is an equal measure of success can does it matter in the eyes of the employee. Only when safety can trump all other aspects of operations does the employee realize its importance in the opinion of management.
Incentives. Are there safety incentives the encourage silence? By reporting near-miss incidents or injuries do employees risk not achieving their safety incentives? Incentive programs need to encourage participation, a watchful eye and speaking up.
A caring work environment. When the worker truly believes that the employer cares about his/her wellbeing, trust develops. This trust changes employee behavior. Employees that believe the employer cares about their health and wellbeing show a greater level of devotion and loyalty. This loyalty means the employee does not want to disappoint the employer by not behaving as requested.
Training and hazard recognition. Safe behavior can’t be expected and practiced if the employee has not been properly trained. Task training needs to be effective and include the development of hazard recognition skills that can be directly applied.
Individual personality. Some people are just quiet or shy by nature. Getting them to come out of their shell can be challenging. Some may fear reprisal or even feel pressured by coworkers. Changing the environment to change their behavior will take time but can be done with persistence.
No work place can afford to be silent. “Later” may too late for addressing an unsafe condition or behavior. Work toward creating an environment where the workforce is interdependent and functions to deliver safety together. Apply the motto: “I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine."
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