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Want to Increase Employee Safety? Take a Personal Approach

October 11, 2017


Countless organizations see their employees' safety as the number #1 priority, but struggle to convert this priority into results. A true safety culture is rooted in understanding safety as a process that evolves over time, from every part of an organization. There's no single safety course that will ensure an employee will work safely, and no single conversation that will ensure a contractor will prioritize safety to efficiency. So, how can you transform safety into an ongoing experience, including both preparation and mindful practice?

The answer is: turn safety development into a personal process. By approaching safety as a personal experience, organizations can help employees stretch their safety muscles and train for a life-long experience of mindful safety behaviors.

So, how do you create a strong foundation of personal safety decision making? It's a matter of understanding how your employees view their own safety as they experience common workplace exposures. 

Does Your Employees' Understanding of Themselves Affect How They Act?

What's behind your day-to-day decision making? Probably your gut more than your mind. You may not notice it in your daily routines, but your internal dispositions guide your choices more than any argument may. Take this example from a 2008 TED Talk by behavioral economist Dan Ariely:

"We use our vision more hours of the day than anything else. And if we have... predictable repeatable mistakes in vision, which we're so good at, what are the chances we won't make even more mistakes in something we're not as good at, for example, financial decision-making?"

We are all naturally inclined to prioritize instincts to facts, emotions to vision. This reveals an important flaw in conventional safety practices: group trainings provide a good platform for telling employees what is expected. However, if your messaging doesn't penetrate into workers' minds enough to matter, your efforts for safety will not change their safety behaviors. If we can get to the root of what drives an individual’s instincts and emotions, we can help them understand their predisposition to work more or less safely.

"Our intuition is really fooling us in a repeatable, predictable, consistent way. I think that if we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way we understand our physical limitations...we could design a better world." (Ariely)

So, the key question becomes: Do your employees understand their internal safety traits? The "gut reactions" that lead their choices from within? Obtaining a knowledge of one's innate safety traits is the starting point to developing a safer employee. If we are not aware of our internal dispositions to be at risk, we lose our touch with our day-to-day risk exposures. Gaining a connection with your internal safety traits and those of your co-workers will allow you to develop consistencies within your safety culture.

Trying to understand your options for employee safety? Start by taking down barriers.

To improve the safety of your workforce, it is important to unveil what the barriers are between external preaching and internal practice, just as in the case of Air Canada's safety procedures. If people's decisions are rooted in their own internal safety compasses, who is effectively in charge? Unfortunately, certain individuals will expose themselves to risks without perceiving what is happening. To obtain the best results from your safety improvement efforts, consider shaping your work environment to deliver a consistent and simple message. This means taking down choice barriers that are allowing people to follow their gut unknowingly.

As workers find themselves in need of direction, they should find simple choices to make to maintain the best safety behavior. Where should they look for guidance? An integrated system that speaks to their internal safety traits is a great way to match internal dialogues with external signs. Focus on what makes safety "click" with your teams to ensure that you can improve your workplace in a sustainable way. Taking down the barriers of endless choices is an important step to ensure that internal traits provoke the best possible behaviors. How this is implemented depends on you: with safety being such a multifaceted topic, the solutions must be flexible to succeed.

So, is employee safety a matter of practice or preparation? Perhaps neither, truly – it is a matter of internal dispositions, or one's innate safety traits. For the implications that safety has on people's wellbeing, whether on a factory floor or in an office, it is key to acknowledge that some essential sources of safety behaviors may be outside of supervisors' control. But your work doesn't end here – this is where it starts. Commit to understanding your team by taking a personal approach to safety. Pre-hire and developmental assessments for safety offer a valuable starting point for safety conversations that are both meaningful and personalized. Lead positive behavior from the inside and help your workforce see their full safety potential.

making safety personal

Giulia Prete Giulia Prete was the Marketing Coordinator for Safety Solutions at PSI.