Nobody Likes Change

While all the responsibilities of a safety professional are difficult in their own right, perhaps one task that challenges safety professionals is implementing a smooth transition between an existing program or routine and a new one. Creating and effecting change can be the most difficult thing to do if you are working with a team that doesn’t understand why the transition is necessary. 

Nobody likes change, and there is a reason for that. Change is scary, it invites in the unknown leading to uncertainty, anxiety and stress. However, change is bound to happen. Whether it is a transition in leadership, organization expansion, product changes, upgrades in equipment or a turnaround in safety programs. Change is nearly always imminent and unless you are properly preparing for it, it could have a dramatic impact on the workplace.  

In fact, numerous studies show that the safety risks associated with change is many times higher than a stable routine. For instance, young workers who are new to the labor market or even experienced workers who are new to a job site or skill are exposed to a higher rate of injury when completing their duties.  

A study called “Newness and the risk of occupational injury,” reported workers who have been on the job for less than a month had four times as many claims as those who held their current job for more than a year. In addition to the length of experience of the worker, change in the way of introducing new hazards such as toxic chemicals, hazardous energy or new equipment can expose workers to serious or fatal injuries.  

It is critical to recognize and define what the change is and how it is going to impact workers, both positively and negatively, before rolling anything out to employees. Before any change is made, there are a few questions you should ask: 

  • Has the problem that identifies the need for change been properly identified?  
  • Is the desired conclusion clearly determined and stated? 
  • Have all possible risks associated with the change been identified?  
  • Do you have a designated person assigned to the responsibility of ensuring the change? 
  • Have you created a schedule for implementation? Has it been approved and communicated? 

Implementing change is not easy, for anyone, for anything. The tip that I would have is to have empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of those who will be involved in the change and ask how you would want the change to be addressed to you. What would make you more comfortable moving forward in the transition? Work these ideas into how to you communicate and proceed. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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