Knowing that safety is important is clearly not enough to create (or even put a dent in creating) a culture of safety and incident-free environments. We have heard the messages “Safety First,” “Target Zero” and, as a very dedicated guy in rural Louisiana explained it, “We ain’t toleratin’ no more dead dudes!” As powerful and eloquent as these messages might be, they haven’t produced the buy-in we might have hoped for.
Frankly, it’s not hard to imagine some skepticism arising in response to these messages. When I hear “Safety First,” I wonder: Are you paying me to do my job or to just not get hurt while attempting to do my job? The motto “Target Zero” seems to ignore the fact that in some industries we will have recordable incidents and fatalities regardless of huge improvements. Just because there is always some idiot who thinks that Jägermeister and welding are a great combo, does that mean we have failed at safety?
Overall the improvement is tremendous: in the past 25 years, we have managed to do very well and people are much safer on the job than ever before. But it seems that the complacency that causes some accidents can actually be created by having a great safety record. After all, if you have no recordable incidents for a year and you have seen great improvement, what’s next? Well … how ’bout Jimmy walking and texting (neither of which he does well) – and slipping and hurting his back?
The only way to change a culture is to get an extremely high level of repeatable buy-in. That means the message from leadership has to be very clear, simple to implement and not a total pain in the ass! It also means that we have to be realistic about what’s working. Have you noticed that the job site with the best safety record is the one where the boss makes everyone feel valuable, the people seem to trust one another and everyone gets along well? It’s true. There may be a few exceptions – a place where Jimmy and his three brothers (all less sharp than he is) happen to work, for example. (If your name happens to be Jimmy, it does not mean you’re accident prone. It’s just the name we are using in the article based on the fact that there seem to be a lot of guys named Jimmy in jobs that involve tools or machinery.)
Most research confirms that when people feel valuable, they make fewer mistakes. They are more loyal and they watch out for each other. They are consistently willing to do more of what they are asked to do. All of that results in dramatically fewer incidents and a true culture of safety. But how do you make that happen in your organization or at your location?
Here are seven ways to make sure you achieve a culture of safety and that your environment is positioned to reduce incidents:
Whether you are a leader who is driving safety forward or just a person on the job trying be good at what you do without being hurt, it requires influence. Are you influential enough to make safety happen around you? Do you have the trust and the relationships in place to help safety concepts and procedures remain effective? For some of you, it may be hard to buy into how important it is for people to have a supportive environment to do their job. You may think that it’s all “charm school BS” and people should just do what they are supposed to do and be safe. But in reality, the overwhelming success of this approach is kind of like listening to NASCAR on the radio; you personally may not believe it makes any sense, but for some strange reason it’s still happening!