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One Safety Leader's Personal Safety Discovery

October 25, 2017

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Have you ever had an “ah-ha!” moment where, suddenly, your understanding of safety was turned upside down? I had a chance to experience this first-hand when I sat down to discuss workplace safety with the Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for one of the world’s leading energy companies. Tom had recently completed our safety assessment and development program and wanted to gain a further understanding, among other things, of his own personal SafetyDNA results. The SafetyDNA® Assessment and Development Program begins with an assessment of internal safety traits. Tom expressed to me that his results surprised him - and not in a good way! He admitted that he was concerned with his SafetyDNA results, as he scored at-risk on the Caution safety factor. He defensively asked how he, a leader with hundreds of thousands of lives under his watchful eye, could be at-risk on any of the four SafetyDNA Factors.

Related: Safety Leadership: Do You Walk The Talk?

We sat down and I asked him to tell me more about his life outside of work, specifically regarding the times before he started in his safety role. Tom revealed that, as a youth, he was considered a little wilder than most; an avid dirt bike rider, and had even enjoyed skydiving before starting a family. Hearing himself speak enthusiastically about these thrill-seeking activities, Tom and I realized that he doesn’t naturally exhibit caution, but enjoys an adrenaline rush when not at work. I explained the internal safety trait that allows him to enjoy high-risk activities is part of the Safety Factor Caution: it doesn’t change much over time, and we picked up on it through the SafetyDNA Assessment he took.
Now it started to make sense to Tom. Internal safety is NOT about changing who you are – but understanding who you are. This is the first step in a life-long safety journey. I explained his propensity to take risks can be mitigated through awareness of his innate safety traits, or SafetyDNA, and keeping them in check.

Over the years and with increased responsibilities, Tom has learned to override the way he feels and consciously make decisions to reduce his exposures. While others higher in Caution avoid high-risk activities because they sense immediate discomfort, Tom has to avoid these activities consciously. This is what allows Tom to perform well as a safety leader: he understands his natural state and knows when to override how he feels with a conscious act to reduce his exposure. He also now empathizes with his employees who feel comfortable taking risks and struggle to understand why they do what they do.

After completing the online SafetyDNA Assessment, Tom completed training and an individual one-on-one coaching session. He expressed now he had a more positive perspective of his personal safety, realizing that safety programs and policies are not as black and white as they may appear. That is because every one of us is wired a little bit differently; therefore, even the most obvious safety rule may be viewed differently across a workforce. Individuals with a higher comfort level for taking risks or bending rules are more likely to question a policy if they see it as a potential roadblock. But, just like Tom has learned to consciously change his at-risk behaviors, his employees are doing the same as they learn to identify and pay close attention to their personal safety traits. The future of workplace safety is in highlighting personal safety traits, or SafetyDNA, and developing a corresponding personalized action plan.

making safety personal

Bart Costello Bart Costello was a Business Development Manager with PSI. His expertise includes talent selection, employee/leader development, talent management, and safety culture transformation. Bart helps his clients solve business needs by applying the science of Industrial-Organizational Psychology.