What Are Your Workers Doing When Nobody's Looking?
 April 30, 2012

What do your employees do when nobody is looking? Do they follow your company's established safe working procedures or do they cut corners to finish a job faster? Truth be told, some workers take risks when nobody's looking. Taking risks can arise from good intentions, but often end in bad results. Sometimes employees can be careless and the results are equally detrimental. Either way it suggests a problem exists with the organization's safety culture. The solution to this problem may be to re-direct the organization to an employee-driven safety program.

The goal of an employee-driven safety program is to change your employees' perceptions, attitudes and values regarding safety, as well as, influence them to approach their work with safety as the highest priority. Oftentimes a behavior change is foundational to a successful employee-driven safety program. When employees are motivating the organization's safety priorities with their own well being in mind, you don't have to worry about what they're doing when you're not looking because co-workers will be looking out for each other and watching for unsafe behavior.

Engineering Controls or Controlling Behavior?

All too often employers look primarily to engineering controls when trying to reduce the frequency and severity of work related injuries. After that they may develop a few administrative controls and finally look to controlling or modifying behavior.

Companies need to eliminate dangers for employees., but it's just not possible to eliminate all hazards. As they complete their tasks, employees must make choices and that means there is always the possibility of making a bad choice. All too often, those bad choices result in a work related injury.

Engineering controls should come first and administrative controls, such as rules and procedures, can identify safe behavior to some extent. The challenge for employers is that employees do not always fully appreciate the risks of the work that they perform because it is so familiar to them. That familiarity is reflected in their behavior. They may believe they understand their job completely and they have everything under control. But, sometimes we overrate risks that we think are not in our control and underrate risks we're familiar with. That is a dangerous thought process that often leads to bad choices.

Making Good Choices

Behavior-based safety is where an employee-driven safety program begins. The most important aspect of behavior-based safety is the understanding that we all make behavioral choices based on our awareness of two factors:

    Antecedents, which are pre-existing beliefs we might hold, present conditions or circumstances in our lives that shape how we view safety Consequences, which can either be positive or negative, that we perceive will grow out of our decisions and actions
For example,why does someone not wear safety goggles or eye protection when operating a hand tool? Consider the antecedents and consequences:

The antecedents probably include:
    A perception there is little risk of injury
    The employee received no training
    No one else wears goggles when using this tool
    No one the employee is aware of has been hurt
    Safety goggles are not readily available
    Safety goggles are cumbersome or uncomfortable

Negative actual consequences will likely include:
An injury - foreign body in the eye A reprimand by the supervisor

Positive actual consequences could include:
    The employee was not injured
    There was no discipline for noncompliance
    The task was completed quickly
The organization's safety culture must include focusing on recognizing and weighing consequences (positive v. negative) and ensuring the company’s values are rooted in the well being of employees and that this priority is no less important than productivity. Additionally, safety is a workplace fundamental and failing to work safely will result in corrective discipline. This is the "consistent concern and consistent correction" cornerstone that successful safety programs are built upon.

Cultures Grow Out of Consistency

For an employee-driven safety culture to be successful, all employees, from corporate officers to new hires, must be fully engaged in making and keeping the workplace safe. Everybody plays an important role.
    Safety Management’s Role - Implement and guide the employee-driven safety culture. Safety management must also review and revise safety programs to help drive continuous safety improvement.

    Senior Management’s Role - To visibly endorse and actively support workplace safety programs. Senior management must also empower employees by being receptive to employee input on hazards, corrective action, and safety and health programs.

    Supervisors’ Role - To give employees the tools, information, and training they need to work safely. Supervisors must also be proactive in protecting their workers and share accountability with their employees for safety in their departments.

    Employees’ Role - To take ownership of safety by sharing responsibility for their own and co-workers’ safety. Employees must also help drive continuous safety improvement by setting personal safety goals, by targeting unsafe work practices, and by sharing their safety stories and ideas with co-workers.

Ownership
Finally, the key to a successful and effective employee-driven safety program is ownership, top to bottom. Safety is triggered from the top and measured at the bottom. Consider these suggestions on how to encourage ownership:
    Ultimately, each employee is responsible for his or her own safety. Although this seemsobvious, manyemployeesmayneverhaveconsideredtheirroleintheir injury. They may also not believe that their safety is both the employee and employer's responsibility. Remind them in every safety meeting you hold that all workplace accidents and injuries are preventable, and it is individuals who prevent them.

    Find safety leaders. Focus recognition on people in the organization who really care about safety and have safety records that reflect their care. Other workers will want similar recognition and will follow these leaders.
    Incentivize safe performance. Reward employees "caught being safe" and you will likely see more of that safe behavior.

    Solicit employee input about safety programs and performance. But, you must act on their suggestions. Nothing cultivates ownership better than when something is your idea.

    Make safety part of all employee training.
    Encourage every employee to participate on safety committees, safety teams or accident investigation teams. Make certain hazard, incident and near miss reporting is easy and blame-free.
To learn more about employee-driven safety programs contact the CMTA Workers' Compensation Group at wcgroup@cmta.net.

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