Do workers believe management is committed to safety?

by on September 18, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Everyone knows management commitment creates the foundation for a safety culture. A strong commitment from the top means you’ll have resources, programs, actions and communication working together to send the right safety message.

But recent research shows that, while top management commitment is crucial, there’s a missing ingredient that can spoil everything. What really matters is that each individual employee perceives that management is committed to safety.

Simply put, the front-line individual in harm’s way needs to know in his or her heart that management is committed to safety. Whether you as safety director, or the supervisors you work with, believe that management is committed to safety just doesn’t matter as much – unless it impacts the frontline employee.

That’s the implication of a study by Liberty Mutual and Harvard researchers.

The experiment
Here’s what they found: Researchers studied 453 employees who worked in restaurants with similar levels of management commitment and workplace hazards. They measured each employee’s perceptions of management to commitment to safety. Next, they measured supervisor’s perceptions of management commitment to safety.

After the initial measurements, workers went about their jobs. At the end of six weeks, researchers measured which workers suffered an injury over six weeks.

Results: There was a direct connection between injured workers and their perceptions of management commitment to safety.
Those with more negative impressions of management commitment were more likely to get hurt. And vice versa – those who believed management was committed to providing a safe environment suffered fewer injuries.

Power of positive thinking?
Implications for safety directors include:

  • Positive thinking employees are less likely to be injured, i.e., perception becomes reality.
  • Any individual employee with a negative attitude about management’s commitment to safety is more likely to be injured.
  • Real management commitment to safety needs to filter down to each employee.

Here are some suggested action steps for applying this research:

1. Listen for grumbling. The most targeted approach is for you and your supervisors to watch and listen for individuals (or groups) who don’t seem to agree management is committed to safety. That doesn’t mean taking a totalitarian approach, e..g., “You Will Believe!”

It means talking to the negative worker (or group) and finding out the person’s concerns, and whether their issues hinge on something in the work environment, the team, the supervisory relationship, or within the worker.

2. Uncover real concerns. In the real world, employees have real concerns. Perhaps a key work order has been delayed that’s keeping workers in harm’s way. Perhaps the person’s supervisor isn’t “walking the talk” occasionally, demonstrating it’s OK to slack off.

Perhaps it’s something as simple as the supervisor rarely if ever catching people taking safety shortcuts. Translation: There aren’t enough inspections, so workers perceive a lack of ongoing management commitment.

Key: Find out if something legitimate is causing doubts about commitment. Once you know the real issues, you can address them and begin the kind of conversations that turn attitudes around.

3. Deal with ‘hard cases’. You may find that the problem is workers with a cynical attitude toward management in general, or “hard cases” with broadly negative attitudes. They may not want to listen, clam up and not discuss issues, deny them, etc.

You need to deal with such cases behaviorally. Cognitive-behavioral psychologists have learned that changed attitudes usually come after changed behaviors. The behaviors you want to see are:

  • compliance with safety rules
  • good performance in safety training, and
  • not spreading that negative attitude around.

As with any type of performance improvement, behavior change takes time. As part of follow up, you should see a more positive attitude following more positive behavior.

“Hard cases” like this can be a lot of work, so you and the supervisor need to decide if the person’s worth the investment.

Source: Huang, Yeung-Hsiang, et al., “Supervisor vs. employee safety perceptions and association with future injury …,” Accident Analysis & Prevention, July 2012, Pp. 45-51.

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