Our safety management consultants will tell you there is no such thing as an accident. At the root of almost every injury or near-injury, there’s an unsafe practice—and a way to avoid that practice through training, supervision, coaching, or other system changes.
“It’s important for employers to understand that they have full control over the workplace environment and culture,” said Trevor Ansbro, loss control program adviser.
There are two primary reasons why employees do unsafe things:
Employees may not know their behavior is unsafe. #For example, they may lack training, their training may be out of date, hazards may not have been identified, or policies may not be in place.
Employees may perceive a payoff for the unsafe behavior. For example, the perceived payoff could be a temporary gain in production speed or a feeling of fitting in with co-workers or supervisors who don’t follow safety precautions.
“There’s a tendency to over-blame people for safety problems,” said Bruce Johnsen, senior safety management consultant. “But you have to look at the system and culture that allowed the behavior to happen.”
Here are a few tips for creating—and sustaining—what we call a high-performance safety culture.
Don’t rely on common sense. “There’s no such thing as common-sense safety,” said Johnsen, “because your common sense is not the same as the next guy. You have to train for the behavior you want to see.”
For instance, don’t assume that a new hire knows your company’s safety procedures for a particular piece of equipment, even if the employee has previous experience using that equipment.
“It’s best to assume that a new employee doesn’t know anything about the job,” said Ansbro.
Address safety regularly and consistently. High-performance safety cultures view training for safety not as a one-shot deal, but as an ongoing endeavor.
“Many employers stop training after the initial new employee orientation,” said Ansbro. “But safety is a daily activity.”
We recommend that supervisors identify the five most critical behaviors for keeping each employee safe and specifically check for those behaviors three to four times daily. For example, if noise is an issue, are all employees wearing hearing protection? If not, why? The opportunity to listen and offer coaching is critical. Employees should also receive safety training regularly to refresh their knowledge and incorporate new information.
Use coaching, not punishment, to ensure accountability. Although fair and consistent disciplinary action is often necessary when someone consistently violates safety procedures, it is never appropriate just because someone was injured.
For the injured employee, punishment adds to the stress around the injury, which can hinder recovery. Rather than serving as a deterrent for unsafe behavior, it sends a message to all employees that it’s better not to report injuries or unsafe practices at all.
“If we only try to play the role of a policeman, people may avoid getting caught, but it may not stop the behavior,” said Johnsen.
Instead, SAIF encourages employers to use positive coaching. Say “thank you” to employees who exhibit safe behavior, and provide incentives for employees who report potentially unsafe practices that could lead to injuries.
“When you see an opportunity for coaching about an unsafe behavior, it’s important to address it immediately,” said Ansbro. “The most important part is consistency. Employees have to be certain they will be coached whenever you see an unsafe behavior.”
And it’s equally important to listen to the employees to learn why they made that particular choice. There may be system issues that make it harder for employees to make the right choices.
In a high-performance safety culture, safety has a value equal to speed and productivity. As you instill this culture in your workplace, the so-called “accidents” happen less and less.
As for the myth of the “careless” employee? Consider it busted.
This article is from the fall 2012 issue of Comp News. See other articles from this publication.