Constructing Remarkable Attention, Decisions, and Action Safety

All buildings and systems require resources of time, funds, equipment, and effort.

If you want to build organizational Safety and ergonomic results that are both significant and stable, think of constructing these as you would erect or remodel a multi-story building. This is especially true when it comes to changing people's attention, decisions, and actions.

It's important to work in stages—being sure, for example, that one floor is done before putting up the roof. All buildings and systems require resources of time, funds, equipment, and effort. The right approach makes it much more likely that your change will be solid and continue to stand over time.

And bear in mind that using cheap materials upfront may not add up to "cost-effective," even over a short time. I'd bet all seasoned professionals can point to Safety "savior" interventions that severely disappointed or were only effective on paper, but not in real life. Back belts? Generic videos that would purportedly curtail injuries? Overly simplified job rotation (where tasks were changed but same muscle groups were still required)? But leaders can create significant improvements as cost- and time-efficiently as possible with the right strategic approach (that goes beyond the immediate excitement of a Hawthorne Effect, which rarely lasts).

Consider forming your Safety and ergonomic interventions using the following four-step advancing process that has proven effective for structuring in significant results with people.

1. Freshening: Prior to even starting the change, I highly recommend you think of first clearing your "building" site of the debris and residue of old and moldy attitudes that are rooted in the past but no longer apply to current times. This is true for wholesale constructing new implementations while washing away the old and for modifying aspects of existing ones that no longer work or apply. We've often seen organizational ground on which it's hard to construct new, different approaches and actions because employees not only remember but are also still reacting to previous negative events or to leadership "errors," or just to the personalities of leaders who've been long gone.

This can be especially true with a longstanding workforce who are likely to have old memories of negative events that still create negative or bitter reactions. Clearing the ground involves listening to determine whether there are old angry or hopeless responses that still clutter the terrain and then to persistently and consistently replace this negativity with messaging that that was then, and things are different now. Of course, this only works when the leader is sincere, not merely trying to brainwash or spin communications (which isn't actual freshening). Freshening can be monitored by checking (interview or survey) whether people continue to harbor negative reactions to long-past events.

2. Foundation: The second stage is laying the foundation of receptivity so that it begins by leaders deciding whom they believe should be first approached. For example, they might aim to persuade supervisors who are resistant toward becoming more active Safety leaders. Or it could be key employee peer leaders who have the potential to, in turn, reach co-workers. Or a group/site that is having nagging ergonomic/Safety problems. In each case, this critical stage is based on turning around lethargic or resistant people and creating greater receptivity. And the bottom line is whether workers actually consider accepting a new method, not just if a leader talks a good game. I've written many articles on practical ways to motivate, engage, and energize. In some cases, the most effective way to institute a company-wide change is to initially pilot it at a site/business unit or department that's initially doing better than most and is thereby initially more receptive than the resistant ones "that really need it the most."

Generating energy early is key to workers and managers taking the next steps to building ergonomic and Safety improvements. A foundation of receptivity can be monitored by interviewing workers and through other "attitudinal" surveys.

3. Framing: Next, the structure is framed. This entails leaders transferring specific skills and actions that actually have potential to improve ergonomic safety. These have to be easily and quickly learned, be self-reinforcing (so that workers can discover and believe in improvements for themselves in their level of reduced accumulated tensions and/or fatigue), and portable to those tasks—both at work and at home—that they do. Framing can be monitored by observing workers themselves or by asking a sampling what they see others actually doing.

4. Finishing: Like finish carpentry or final painting of a building's façade, this is the ending, the harvesting stage, where "results" are reported and reaped. The Finish is shown in the statistics that depict a range of whichever trailing indicators an organization chooses.

Leaders determined to create significant and lasting ergonomic and Safety improvements might emulate a master craftsman whose practice is to prepare and carefully go through the stages of preparation and construction. I've seen how this structured general approach has generated breakthroughs in Safety culture and performance within several organizations.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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