Creating a Culture of Speaking Up

Safety is all about the unwritten rules of the workplace. What are yours?

How can you create a safety culture where workers feel they can speak up when they see a hazard or unsafe situation happening?

This was the focus of Phillip Ragain’s “Creating a Culture of Speaking Up” session at the American Society of Safety Professional’s Safety 2021 Professional Development Conference and Exposition on Monday, Sept. 13.

Ragain, who is the Director of Human Performance Improvement at The RAD Group, explained in this session that often, when facilities go an extended amount of time without an incident, safety leaders will confuse safety with luck. Inevitably, the luck will run out. Workers will need to fall back on the culture, or the unwritten rules of the workplace, to guide them in what they need to do next.

How can you create a safety culture to fall back on? Ragain said that leaders who invest in, or put the work into, a safety management system are often the ones that are able to create a streamlined approach to safety. Then all of a sudden, workers know what they are supposed to do. When this happens, Ragain said, they arrive at, what he likes to call, a “compliant culture.”

Ragain explained a complaint culture as, “a workforce that is trained to execute its role through a safety management system,” but recommends facilities aim even higher—to a proactive or generative culture. These cultures encourage for workers to speak up if they see something unsafe.

In the second half of his session, Ragain helps safety professions in attendance to understand why they need to invest in a safety culture rather than a, “culture of compliance.”

If safety professionals want workers to intervene when they see something unsafe, there are a few prerequisites. First, workers need to understand that there is a hazard present that creates risk for workers. Then, workers need to assess the risk and decide how they want to proceed. Finally, they have to decide if the risk is great enough that they want to “tolerate the risk” or intervene by speaking up.

The last piece of this puzzle, is making it a norm in the workplace to speak up when workers see a risk they won’t tolerate. According to Ragain, the majority of workers will choose to not to speak up, even when they have approached an unsafe situation. However, it is possible to overcome this and create a new workplace norm where speaking up is the natural decisions workers will make.

To learn how create a culture of speaking up, be sure to catch Ragain’s session through ASSP’s virtual conference portal. Sessions will be available for 60 days following the conclusion of the conference.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the Editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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