Do you offer employees safety moments or warnings about working safely? There's a difference, and one can be much more powerful than the other.
Does your company do safety moments? If so, what do you consider to be an effective safety moment? It’s an interesting question, and one that I took a bit for granted until recently. I’ve heard people do safety moments in many different ways, with varying degrees of relevance to the actual work environment, but they all bring us back to the importance of safety in some way.
While it’s always good to focus on safety each day, I wonder how effective and impactful our typical safety moments are. Recently, while conducting a safety leadership coaching session with a supervisor at a manufacturing plant, he mentioned that his team does daily safety moments. In our workshop earlier that day, we had discussed the importance of being people-focused and engaging employees on a personal level.
After reflecting on that, he shared with me that although his team does safety moments every day, they are hardly ever “personal.” He and his team lead always cover a safety topic that is relevant to the work they are doing that day and the associated hazards. As I listened to some of his examples, I heard all of the typical things that I would expect:
“We’re working at heights today, so make sure we all wear our fall prevention equipment and tie off properly.”
“We’ve had two hand injuries in the past month, so we really need to wear the proper gloves and use machine guarding at all times.”
“Guys, it’s real hot out there today, so make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.”
It suddenly occurred to him that all this time, he’s been covering topics that are relevant to the day’s work, and are helpful, but they are not personal in any way. His team’s safety moments raise awareness of risks and point out ways to prevent injury but fail to make a personal connection to him, or his team members.
Why Should Safety Moments Be Personal?
Simply put, safety is personal. We can talk about every possible hazard around us, discuss a dozen ways to mitigate the risks and remind people all day long about using PPE, but at some point, it’s important to remember why we are talking about safety in the first place: to make sure we all go home safely every day. Furthermore, we are not identical copies of one another – we bring different experiences, traits and abilities to work every day, and have different levels of personal exposure based on our own behaviors and the work that we do as individuals.
This applies to supervisors and managers as well as the people who work for them. Research shows that when employees are more engaged and when they perceive that their supervisors are engaged, they more likely will have positive perceptions about their company’s safety culture and more likely to work safely. And I believe that making safety personal at the individual level is an important part of this process.
So what can you do in order to make your safety moments more personal? There are many simple ways to accomplish this, but here are a few tips:
1) Use personal examples
One of the most obvious ways to do this is to simply talk about your own safety experiences. There’s something about hearing someone share a recent personal experience, observation or incident that makes us listen more closely. When we hear a safety moment from someone and we know it’s meaningful and relevant to him or her, it’s easier to make a personal connection. And the best part? It’s very easy to do!
Do you have any personal safety stories about you, family members or friends? Stories can add a nice personal touch when they are relevant to a current situation.
But don’t limit yourself to big memorable stories. Just think of any recent things you’ve seen or read, as well as past incidents or close calls that relate to any hazard or risk relevant to your workplace. It can be helpful to keep a journal or a list of these and jot down any ideas as you observe or experience everyday situations that relate to safety. These easily can be turned into an impactful safety moment that you can share with your team.
2) Link daily exposures to your personal safety behavior
As I mentioned above, we are unique in many ways, and it’s the same with our personal safety. Research shows that people differ in terms of individual traits, values and abilities that impact safety behavior. So, talk about those – starting with yours.
For example, if you know you have a high risk tolerance, and you’re going to be working at heights all day, you may have to fight the urge to use the wrong type of ladder or not tie off properly in certain situations because it will take more time to do so. But for someone else on the team, his blind spot might be getting distracted, or not being aware of his immediate surroundings. So he also might be at risk when working at heights, but for different reasons (g., forgetting to tie off his safety harness due to distraction or dropping a tool, which then causes a line-of-fire hazard below).
Encourage others to share a potential personal blind spot that could put them (and their co-workers) at risk based on the work being done. This can be a personality trait, a habit or a previous experience that is unique to them. Once you set the stage for this, others will feel more comfortable sharing personal examples, which then can lead into a productive discussion about preventive measures and reminders that are tailored to everyone’s behavioral tendencies and the work being done that day.
3) Share successes
Often, when we do get personal in our safety moments, it tends to focus on someone being injured or a near miss when someone was almost injured or killed. These are impactful, but why not also talk about all the times we did the job safely, and made the right decisions in order to put safety first? Talking about the things that have worked, and the potential harm we prevented proactively, can add a nice touch that is both positive and personal. It encourages others to think about what they can do to prevent injuries, and that anyone can make a difference, no matter who they are.
Identify some things that you have done to reduce risks or even better: point out successes of someone else on your team and what he or she has done to promote safety in a similar situation. This can be applied to the work being done today, and can motivate your team while giving them specific takeaways and tips they can apply in their own day-to-day work experiences.
By taking simple steps such as these, we can add a personal touch to our safety moments. This will make them more memorable and impactful for our team members, which can, in turn, lead to more awareness and safe behavior, regardless of the job at hand.
Got any great personal stories or safety moments you wish to share? We’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments section of the article.
About the author: Esteban Tristan, Ph.D., is the safety practice manager and a senior consultant at Select International. He manages the development and implementation of all safety solutions and services, which address some of the critical challenges faced by organizations today in workplace safety.