Safety professionals can overcome negative perceptions by using communications strategies that reduce defensiveness and establish open dialog with workers. Rather than taking strictly compliance approach, safety professionals should behave more like educators and empower workers to participate in developing a safety culture.
Every old timers (that includes me too) has a story of a ‘Safety Police’ ,Walking and shutting down work activity for minor deviations, simply to show everyone there that they have the power to enforce the rules. As a result, any one in safety profession gets a label of being unprofessional and it is very difficult to change (that) attitude. One of the worst ways a safety professional can demonstrate the “safety cop” label is by being confrontational and look for ways to criticize or stop work.
Environments where people are labeled “safety Police,” create fear and reduce safety participation. Compliance might increase but hazard awareness, looking out for others and innovation can decline. Safety professionals and programs that only emphasize compliance may have a positive effect on an organization’s violation rate, but other safety behaviors such as self-reporting, collaboration and educational program participation may decrease.
Safety professionals cannot simply go through checklists; they must engage with workers and gain insight into their work environment. Anyone new to an organization should spend the first few weeks – or months, if needed – getting to know the people working there and simply ask them what their jobs are and ask them if they know of any safety issues. Allowing the workers to tell you what they see will give a new safety professional insight to the real processes that are used and not simply see people ‘acting’ when the safety personnel are around.
Below listed communication strategies can be used by a safety professional to foster this open dialog with workers:
- Make safety a regular topic of informal conversations and formal events.
- Ask workers’ opinions and regularly seek input.
- Accept constructive dissent as a positive step.
- Avoid blaming workers and focus on learning when discussing errors.
- Ensure safety messages show support and concern for worker’s welfare.
The best approach to overcoming a “safety Police” label is to calmly explain the safety aspect of your observation and point out any violations of the company’s safety plan. This explanation should include how you only want them to be safe and do not intend to interfere with their work. Unless there is an immediate threat of harm, wait until the person has finished whatever task they’re doing and then discuss safety.
It helps to make workers feel as though the safety professional is on their side. If they realize at the onset that you are there to help them, or make them safe, and you are doing a job, they are not as defensive.
Aligning with the culture
Aligning with the organization’s culture can help safety professionals establish credibility among workers. Safety professionals align safety with the organization’s core values. If the company appears concerned only with financial matters, the safety professional should figure out a way to align safety with that core value. He or she could emphasize how safety incidents cost money and hurt the company’s reputation, and iterate how incidents cause unnecessary human suffering. Then, he can follow up by describing the ways safety programs can save everyone and the company money and grief.
Safety professionals need to send the message, ‘I am here to help you to accomplish your goal, and oneway to accomplish your goal is by doing things safer.’ That will at least have a greater probability of getting their attention.
With warm regards,
Dr Katari Murthy