3 traps that can sabotage safety & hurt workers’ morale

by on January 27, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You’ve no doubt got your share of good workers – folks who are proud of how hard they work.

But according to one expert, Corrie Pitzer, a consultant with SAFEmap International, some safety departments can accidentally damage worker morale – despite the best of intentions. He suggests safety directors, before taking action related to safety violations and accidents, watch out for the following:

1. Not considering why a worker broke a safety rule
A workplace that punishes honest mistakes (especially first offenses) too harshly will find workers get skittish.

Example: Perhaps a worker on a scaffold decides a guardrail is in the way of his work and removes it. Some supervisors’ first thought would be, “A rule is a rule. I have to nail this guy.”

When a supervisor comes down too hard on the worker, both he and his buddies may think the supervisor doesn’t understand the difficulty of the task – and isn’t letting them do their jobs.

In this example, both the worker and the supervisor have a point – the guardrail is in the way of the work, and removing the rail is an OSHA violation and safety hazard.

Better: Have the supervisor ask questions to uncover why the worker took the risky action he did. The supervisor should also acknowledge a real problem when it exists.

In this case, the supervisor could offer alternative fall protection to keep everyone safe, and allow workers to keep working hard.

2. Overreacting to mistakes, incidents and accidents
Even well-managed safety programs will have near-misses, worker mistakes, incidents and accidents, Pitzer says. And especially with well-managed programs, it’s critical that senior managers don’t overreact to incidents.

Pitzer says one common way of overreacting is when senior managers demand a new safety rule based on one accident. This is especially true if an accident made the news – managers need to show they’ve “done something.”

A few problems with creating a new rule in reaction to an accident:

  • If a worker broke an existing rule, there’s no need for a new one.
  • If you have a process-safety or engineering-control issue, a new rule based on worker behavior won’t help.
  • And a new rule may cause “risk migration.” Without studying how a new rule will affect an entire process, the risk may just move elsewhere.

3. Not acknowledging inherent risk
Pitzer insists that safety is not about removing all possible risks, but about developing workers’ skills so that they can safely take limited, measured risks.

Policies, procedures and PPE all help protect workers, but too many rules can stifle workers’ creativity and kill morale.

Plus, as good as many safety directors are, no one can anticipate the risk in every situation. Pitzer suggests developing workers’ skills so they’re up to the task of taking risks in their jobs.

Example: A worker needs to move a heavy hose. Any lifting has risk. But if workers know how to make the best use of their own strength, they can skillfully take the risk without injuring their backs.

Supervisors should regularly assess workers’ risk-taking skills – and intervene only when workers are demonstrating poor or unsafe judgment.

When workers feel confident they can safely take risks, their morale will remain high and they’ll be more productive.

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