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Getting your staff to Believe in your HSE Program…

Companies that are best in class when it comes to safety, all have one thing in common.  And that is each employee and contractor takes ownership of their own safety. First, failure is not always bad. In organizational life it is sometimes bad, sometimes inevitable, and sometimes even good. Second, learning from organizational failures is anything but straightforward. The attitudes and activities required to effectively detect and analyze failures are in short supply in most companies, and the need for context-specific learning strategies is underappreciated. Organizations need new and better ways to go beyond lessons that are superficial (“Procedures weren’t followed”) or self-serving (“The market just wasn’t ready for our great new product”). That means jettisoning old cultural beliefs and stereotypical notions of success and embracing failure’s lessons.

 It’s part of their workplace culture. Employees may believe that:

  • health and safety is a matter for individuals;

  • they will be punished for criticising management practice;

  • they lack the skills and confidence to take on the role; or

  • you will not truly take on board their concerns.

If you were to ask employees who work at companies that are average or poor at safety, “Who is responsible for safety?”, they would say “The Safety Manager”.   Your safety management program should not be based upon the Grizzly Bear and Rabbit Theory!!

But at high performing companies, staff would answer “I am “.Safety is not something management does to or for employees. Management commitment to safety is necessary, but true safety excellence requires engagement from personnel throughout the organization, especially the hourly employees. Such engagement in safety benefits the employees as well as the organization. In fact, studies recognize that by focusing organizational effort to cultivate a culture of involvement and participation, zero injuries is achievable. However, safety must become a cooperative process where everyone participates to make the workplace safer. Every worker has something meaningful to contribute, and people will contribute if the climate is right.

People believe in themselves when they have a reason to commit to something significant and meaningful. When people feel inspired by their leader, leadership is at its best. When people are made to feel important, when they know they matter and they have an important role, they bring their best to all they need to accomplish. Inspiration drives motivation. When people understand the direction of the vision, leadership is at its prime. People need to know where they are heading and why they are headed there. Once they have that knowledge, they can leverage their talent to achieve great results. Direction fosters purpose. When people feel safe to make mistakes, leadership is supportive. While success relies on innovation and creativity, it also takes many mistakes to succeed. When your people feel safe to fail, you have done your job in preparing them to meet challenges and letting them know they will go unscathed when they make mistakes. A safety net promotes security. When people experience trust in their own ability, leadership is at its peak. Those you entrust feel important and empowered. Trust encourages people to bring their talent and knowledge and become part of the team. Trust leads to confidence. When people know they can contribute in a meaningful way, leadership is optimal. It is important for people to know that they have a genuine contribution to make, that what they do is instrumental in achieving significant results. By taking ownership of safety, staff are more likely to speak up when they see safety issues, correctly report incidents, have a positive attitude towards safety and take new safety initiatives seriously.

People in successful workplaces understand that a safe and healthy workplace is a productive workplace. They also know that they have to work together to create and maintain a safe and healthy workplace. As you have seen, the Occupational Health and Safety Act is very clear about the different roles of the employer, supervisor and worker, and how those roles cooperate to make a safe and healthy workplace.

To communicate effectively, you need to be good at both listening and speaking. You need to be a leader as well as a supervisor. A leader adds to the supervisor’s basic role of overseeing the work by listening to the workers, trying to understand their point of view, supporting them when they need help, and always setting a good example. Leaders need to help employees feel they are doing worthwhile work and are therefore important. Too often, negative feedback can belittle one’s sense of importance, and that’s disastrous for voluntary participation. That’s why it’s critical to emphasize a person’s positive contributions to the work place. When people believe their work is genuinely appreciated, they want to improve and do their best. They become self-motivated. There’s probably no faster way to decrease employee involvement than to apply negative consequences in an attempt to correct behaviors such as giving an individual an embarrassing reprimand for working at-risk or for not following a designated safety procedure. Punishment is detrimental to long-term participation and can turn individuals and an entire work culture against those doing the punishing. Use punishment as a last resort – only after you’ve tried the many other more positive and effective techniques. Managers themselves may inadvertently contradict their true support for safety through their interpersonal interactions with employees.

As the person in the highest leadership position, the employer has the most important role in creating an effective Internal Responsibility System in the workplace. You need the support of the employer to carry out your supervisor duties, and the workers need to know that their supervisor and employer will listen to their concerns and work with them to recognize, assess and control hazards.

You should inform the employer of any health and safety concern, even if you have the ability and authority to handle it yourself. Your employer may need to know about the problem in order to fulfill his or her duties.

The three rights of workers

The Legislation gives workers three important rights:

  • The right to know about workplace hazards and what to do about them

  • The right to participate in solving workplace health and safety problems

  • The right to refuse work that they believe is unsafe

As a supervisor, it’s important that you know and understand those three worker rights.

It’s your job to tell the workers about any health or safety hazards and to show them how to work safely. This supports workers’ right to know about hazards to which they might be exposed. The employer supports the workers’ right to know by making sure they get:

  • Information about the hazards in the work they are doing.

  • Training to do the work in a healthy and safe way

  • Competent supervision to stay healthy and safe. That means the employer has made sure that you know how to do your job.

For companies who want to improve safety, there needs to be a balance between the company doing the right things for staff when it comes to safety (ie: providing the right safety equipment, training, having clear procedures etc) and staff being fully accountable for their own safety.  It’s a two way process.

Where this gets tricky, is that a lot of people think that they will not get injured at work.  Called “optimism bias”, workers think other people in their workplace will get hurt and not them.  The danger to this is that they tune out safety training and messages, as well as being responsible for their own safety.

Your organization will have its own unique system, reflecting your way of doing business, the hazards of your work, and how you manage the safety and health of your employees:

  • If you manage a small business in a low-risk industry, your system may simply involve listening to your employees’ concerns and responding to them.

  • A large business in a hazardous industry may have notebooks full of written policies and procedures and a full-time safety director.

What’s most important is that your system works for your organization. It’s up to you to decide how best to operate a safe and healthy workplace, and to put your plan into practice.

What makes a successful system?

A successful system will be part of your overall business operation, as important as the other things you do to succeed in business.

Successful safety and health systems have the following in place:

  • Managers committed to making the program work.

  • Employees involved in the program.

  • A system to identify and control hazards.

  • Compliance with OH&S  regulations.

  • Training on safe work practices.

  • Mutual respect, caring and open communication in a climate conducive to safety.

  • Continuous improvement .

Humans also tend to not accept responsibility for themselves, prefering to blame others when things go wrong.

In order to get around the human tendency of “it won’t happen to me”  or “it’s not my responsibility” companies need to focus on communicating:

  1. Group identity- the importance of working as a company team and the need to look out for each other.  Staff work towards one safety goal and see one another as family

  2. High candor- Studies have found that high performing companies encourage staff, at all levels, to openly discussing issues and providing feedback to one another on performance.  While low candor workplaces are highly politicized and people are too afraid to speak up.

  3. Positive safety attitudes- Negative workplace attitudes to safety can be contagious.  Once negative safety attitudes become viral, they’re pretty hard to cure.  It’s important that staff are always told that safety is achievable and that those who are negative about safety are quickly corrected.

  4. Friendly Supervisors- A good supervisor fosters positive safety attitudes and encourages sharing important safety-related information.  Various research studies have shown that positive communication relations between supervisors and employees improves safety performance.

When it comes to changing people’s mindsets that “it won’t happen to me”, the most effective way is to get people who have been injured, to talk about what happened.  After all, stories provide an emotional connection to information and can show the effect of when safety is not taken seriously

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