We’ve all had that one co-worker who is constantly doing unsafe things at work -- getting minor injuries, repeatedly taking risks, or “bending” the safety policies. Are these individuals just naturally risk-takers? Did they previously work for a company that had a really low regard for safety? Do they just dislike authority? You may have asked yourself any of these questions. But more importantly, what can you do to help them work more safely and avoid harm? Regardless of why they exhibit these behaviors, the underlying concern here is the concern for their personal safety and your level of confidence that they can work in a safe manner.
Workplace safety is everyone’s responsibility. This is particularly salient for employees who must depend on their co-workers to keep each other safe from serious injury or death. It is already problematic when people unnecessarily endanger themselves at work, but it is even worse to put others around them at risk by not following safety protocols. Working with someone who has a high-risk SafetyDNA profile can greatly increase your chance of being injured as a result of their own safety blind spots, so it is critical to address the relevant behaviors in a timely and constructive manner.
The first step to helping coworkers improve their safety behavior is to discuss your concerns with them directly. Sometimes people simply don’t realize the impact their behavior can have on co-workers, and they will make the appropriate adjustments once you give them feedback. Otherwise, formal action is likely warranted. In past blog posts I have described the process of improving employee safety behavior through changing the behaviors associated with each employee’s unique safety blind spots based on their SafetyDNA profile, so I won’t expand on this now. However, I do want to provide some tips for that first interaction with your co-worker, as it is an uncomfortable, yet necessary conversation to have.
If the co-worker is your peer, you must approach this discussion with caution. This is not the time to be passive about letting them know what they are doing wrong, but you also don’t want to come across as overly aggressive. This often leads to immediate defensiveness on their part, and it can be sensitive, since you are not their boss. It’s important to initiate the discussion in a positive manner, and to express genuine concern for them.
When you engage the co-worker in this discussion, it is important to provide an objective and specific explanation of why the behavior in question (e.g., violating a safety rule or acting carelessly in a hazardous area) can affect not only themselves, but you and the rest of your co-workers. This will be most effective when you:
Take a minute beforehand to think about what you will say.
If possible, approach the individual when they display the at-risk behavior.
Remain calm and collected while talking to the co-worker.
Give specific descriptions of how their behavior affects other people’s safety.
Keep the conversation positive and focused on identifying a solution to the problem or an alternative behavior that is safer.
If possible, follow up with him/her soon afterward and seek to reinforce them positively if they are now doing the task safely.
Although having this conversation will not guarantee a change in your co-worker’s safety behaviors, it provides them with the information they will hopefully use to improve their safety behavior and minimize the risk to which you and other co-workers are exposed. And if you do it in the right way, it will show that you actually care about their personal well-being and it will demonstrate that people at your company do more than just pay “lip service” to safety.