Give them a fish, teach them to fish, then help them teach others how to fish.
- By Robert Pater
- Jan 01, 2010
Executives are people first. Sounds obvious, but this
is key to heightening active support for Safety and
Health from your company's apex. While they may
not have much exposure to lockout/tagout issues
nor to hazardous workplace materials, senior managers are
as prone to soft-tissue injuries (and slips/trips/falls) as line
workers. Remember that 80 percent of all people in many
countries experience back pain incidents. So
senior managers can personally relate to these
issues and be motivated toward adopting ergonomic
actions as much as employees doing more
In our worldwide experience implementing
strain/sprain, slip/trip/fall, and hand injury
prevention systems, we've had the opportunity
to work with numerous senior managers. We've
found that, when approached right, executives
can become highly energized by personal applications
of ergonomics (which I define as "improving
the fit between people and their tasks").
For example, after being scheduled to present
to more than a hundred senior managers at
a large transportation manufacturing company,
I heard from the HSE Director that the "Plant
Manager" (with more than 25,000 workers)
wasn't planning on attending. I asked to briefly meet with
him before my presentation. When he shook my hand, he
simultaneously looked at his watch. Message received. Luckily,
I noticed there was a golf club in the corner of his office
and offered that, as he played golf, would he be interested in
seeing an ergonomics technique that many reported added
15 or more yards to their drive, without changing anything
else? He warily assented with narrowed eyes. In under five
minutes, I demonstrated how slight changes in his grip could
make immediate significant improvements in his balance and
available strength. That this same principle could be easily
applied to reducing carpal tunnel problems and soft-tissue
injuries to arms, back, and shoulders — big concerns in their
riveting and assembly areas. His eyes widened, and he immediately
told his administrative assistant to call all his direct
reports to make sure they attended my afternoon seminar.
This made it a lot easier to implement an ergonomics system.
While he had previously been "committed" to Safety, he
was really excited about improving his golf game. The moral
is clear: Motivate people by what's really important to them,
not what you think ought to be. Enroll executives by focusing
on their personal concerns and interests, as well as their
In another instance, I was asked to meet with the president
of a worldwide oil services company. Like many in their
industry, this organization had numerous slips, trips, and
falls. Despite significant losses from direct payouts as well
as replacement costs that placed critical company contracts
at performance risk, little had been done to turn this around.
That is, until the president's 90-year-old mother fell on black
ice (you can't see it, but it's there). This, along with his newfound
awareness of the level of damage slips and falls had on
employees, forged a wakeup call to protect his mother — and
his workers — from future injuries. The hardest part now
over, we then discussed workable methods and a system he
could apply to all his sites, learning these for
himself and family first.
Anyone with arms, legs, torso, and head is
at risk for strains, sprains, and slips/trips/falls.
Executives, too, can relate to and use practical
ergonomic techniques and decision-making in
their own lives. Think of offering select proven
ergonomic interventions to managers they can
personally pilot for their organization. If they
see and feel positive improvements for themselves
that are easily applied, it's much more
likely they'll support, and even drive, ergonomics
in their areas of responsibility. Discuss how
they can share these methods with their family
— and workers. Give them a fish, teach them to
fish, then help them teach others how to fish.
Furthermore, infusing ergonomic concepts
and skills at the top level encourages senior
managers to share any personal success story throughout the
company. This can be a powerful way to break the inertia of
executives merely verbally supporting safety from a distance.
Motivate executive ergonomics by focusing on their favorite
off-work activities (golf, fishing, hunting, gardening,
home projects, etc.). Also, show how they might use ergonomic
decision-making in purchasing cars and other personal
items. Show them how they can simultaneously elevate
their attention and reduce tension when sitting at their desks
and while traveling (entering/exiting moving airport walkways,
standing in line, carrying bags, pulling rolling luggage).
Discuss how they might boost charisma during presentations,
even how they can apply ergonomic positioning
methods to strengthen their handshake.
Think of Executives as more than just an obstacle to
ergonomics and Safety, or as merely a means to approving
funding. Strategize how to best serve their individual needs
and concerns through personalized ergonomic methods and
techniques. I've seen this work with Executives many times
— and it may help your company, as well.
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.