What workers don’t tell you about safety

by on February 21, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Safety Directors spend a lot of time trying to instill right attitudes about safety in their workforce.

But what about wrong attitudes? Can you learn anything from them?

Sure. Understanding employee psychology as it really is can help you pick up important clues about how to alter it and move it in a safer direction.

According to a new study by safety consultancy VitalSmarts, employees justify themselves before breaking safety rules. And they use these same justifications to keep silent when co-workers break the rules, too.

As safety director, you and your supervisors need to probe deeper when you spot violations. Ask workers why they broke a safety rule.

Then listen for justifications. Some common answers you need to prepare for include the following:
1. ‘Gotta get ‘er done’
‘Get ‘er done’ is production pressure – real or perceived – that goads workers to rush through procedures or take risky shortcuts. It’s probably the most common justification.

As safety director, you need to ask questions to find out whether or not the worker has a good production reason. If the problem is they’re slow producers, they’ll probably resist anything that slows them down and be unlikely to admit their slowness is the problem.

Have supervisors work with the person, observing their production, to see if they can increase the worker’s efficiency. An employee new to the job, or new to the safety procedures, may need some ramp up time. For example, an operator may keep jamming a machine as he learns to feed materials into it. He may get annoyed at having to full-stop the machine and restart it.

Have supervisors encourage slow producers to keep trying, until they naturally get more efficient. Make sure they know to keep going with the safety procedures until they get better. And be prepared to discipline those who are simply making excuses.

2. ‘Don’t know, don’t tell’
When employees don’t know how to do something, or have forgotten, it’s hard for them to admit it. They may plow ahead without asking for help, with dangerous results.

Same with people who know co-workers don’t know how to do something: They don’t feel comfortable exposing someone else’s ignorance.

Building your safety culture so there are no “bad reminders” and no “stupid questions” requires time and effort. Supervisors who welcome questions, even repeat ones, will gradually build a safety culture where workers feel “safe” to ask questions.

3. ‘Just this once’
The “just this once” rationale gets everyone, sooner or later. Even veteran workers and supervisors will resort to “just this once” to get out of a jam.

But one-time exceptions to safety rules may turn out to be disastrous. And a “just this time” exception too easily turns into habitual rule violations.

One way to combat this is to offer safety case studies in your training sessions that include “just this once” themes. For example, one 24-year veteran electrician left a key for a breaker box in an obvious location. An office employee, irritated his office was locked out, found the key on top of the box and flipped the breaker back on, electrocuting the veteran electrician.

4. ‘Who made this rule anyway?’
This is passive-aggressive behavior. Workers who think a safety rule or precaution is “over the top” will tend to discount it.
They think somebody who doesn’t understand what they do every day laid down the rule. So they’ll ignore it as much as possible.

Talking them out of it directly is unlikely to convince them, either. Discipline may work, but there are middle-ground options.

One option to consider is that the person is correct. If that’s the case and you trust the worker to be reasonable, remember that people are often united by questions, and divided by answers. And that those who complain about problems just volunteered to help solve them.

Lay out the specific problem the safety procedure is designed to solve. Then ask your complainers to come up with a way to solve it within parameters acceptable to the company. Once you start that dialogue, they may have greater appreciation for the thought that went into the rule.

5. ‘Can’t let down the team’
Workers sometimes persuade themselves that ignoring safe procedures is for the good of the team – or the company, or customers.

Once you’ve identified this as a problem, stress to them that the team requires safety, too. If they hurt a team member or customer, they’ll end up letting down the team, too.

Source: www.vitalsmarts.com

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