Energizing Safety: Launching Performance and Culture
The ultimate enemy of change is not resistant people--experience shows these can be turned around remarkably quickly with the right approach.
- By Robert Pater
- Jan 01, 2007
DO you want to
generate the power to change your company's future? Practice energizing safety
within your company.
I frequently see
organizational safety cultures that just seem to be going through the motions.
Rounds of required training, repeated without change year after year. Motivation that relies on pressuring, cajoling, guilting--again,
same old. Managers who are strong presenters on other
topics but become flustered when they speak about safety. Safety
committees that are merely present at meetings but don't take significant
actions toward boosting performance.
And, no surprise,
these companies' safety records reflect this inertia, seemingly stuck in the
mud of an "okay" injury rate. At worst case, safety is seen as
boring, impractical, or serving mixed messages. At best, everyone acknowledges
safety as important but there's no energy; workers and managers drift into
But you don't
have to settle for this stasis. From our experience, there's highgrade fuel for
accelerating into the lane of higher safety performance. I'll cover these and
other topics in greater detail in future columns.
them--and yourself. Ever
taken a science class that was magical and fun? Every Safety training should be
the same--filled with the same kinds of demonstrations and participation that
brought out "I-didn't-know-that!"s. Complete with practical tips
participants can't wait to use and tell others.
Fill your safety
communications and training with demonstrations, surprises, and techniques that
are exciting and personally doable. Apply the Cirque du Soleil motto,
"Invoke . . . Provoke . . . Evoke," to every safety intervention.
2. Do it
going through the motions. Throw out the old tell 'em again and again approach.
Change it up--this will carry energy even when your delivery isn't totally
perfected. Apply new paradigms (for example, we've applied select martial arts
methods to injury prevention and safety leadership). Rotate signs and messages;
don't leave them to first grow stale, then moldy. Vary your words and examples.
Bring other voices in. Surprise them.
3. Be willing to be uncomfortable. If you're not a little nervous about
doing something new, it's likely your communications will come across too flat.
Or others already think they know what you're going to say and have tuned you
enemy of change is not resistant people--experience shows these can be turned
around remarkably quickly with the right approach. It's more apathy, retirement
on active duty, where the lights are on but nobody's home. Clearing out safety
cobwebs starts with you as a leader venturing out of your comfort zone. If you
wish to see improved actions in others, lead by welcoming receptivity to new
ways and procedures.
4. Warm them up
with kinesthetics. Get away from a mostly intellectual/wordy/philosophical approach
to safety. Thoughts are cool, feelings are warm. Heat up your safety systems by
involving everyone in as many ways as possible. Help others feel what you're
trying to get across. New PPE? Don't just describe or
show it--pass it around for them to pilot-try it.
Too often, safety
initiatives attempt to fight a feeling (the adrenaline rush of taking risks)
with a thought ("Remember what might go wrong!"). Which have you
found wins out with most people? Which has more impact--describing salt or
letting people taste it? Can you really learn to proficiently drive a golf ball
by only watching tapes of Tiger Woods?
Look for any opportunity
to turn safety into hands-on, interactive activities.
5. Offer it,
don't push it. Dick
Gregory said, "If you've got something good, you don't have to shove it
down peoples' throats--they'll steal it from you." Communicate that
highest-level safety is much more than just preventing things from occurring
that no one really thinks will happen to them. It's about living your life
alive, well, having the energy and skills to do what's most personally
important. High-level safety boosts morale, health, receptivity, and transfers
to loved ones and favorite off-work activities.
6. Turn them
loose. Find ways to
deputize workers and managers into becoming active agents of safety change.
Solicit their preferences, train them as peer catalysts and reinforcement
agents, invite them to share their off- and on-work safety knowledge. Go beyond
delegation or "forced involvement" to harnessing others' passions,
directed toward safety objectives.
There are many
more strategies for magnetizing vibrant safety performance and culture. But
it's possible to do so even in the most staid organizations; it's happening
right now throughout the world. I invite you to set your safety sights and
This column appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.