Silencing Awareness On Hazard Identification
Organizations spend lots of time, effort and resources training to promote hazard identification with their employees. In a safety program identifying and controlling hazards can be hard to achieve as people see hazards differently. Some people will consider an action like driving over 10% of the speed limit as dangerous driving. While another person would see this action as being a good driver as it becomes a habitual behavior to how they drive. These different behaviors is what makes finding unity in hazard identification a difficult task to achieve.
When I counsel injured workers, they always share their story of their incident. Far too often, they get to this point where they tell me they saw the hazard and they said something about it to their supervisor. Yet, the supervisor had coerced them into doing the task anyways. By all measures the employee identifying the hazard was a success and yet an incident occurred. There was a failure in the system.
There is this dynamic where on one hand companies value their employees. To the point top management encourage and promote their employees to stop a job rather than lose a life. On the other hand, when extrinsic factors change supervisors sometimes will make a decision that puts production to be more important than the employee’s safety. To get the employee to comply with the unsafe work the supervisor will leverage the employees need to provide for their families by threatening their job if they refuse to do the task.
Losing the Message
In today’s modern workplaces safety has become a critical component of how we work. Top management understand the value of protecting their workers and how it adds to the overall wellbeing of the organization.
Subsequently, middle management feel the pressure to produce and to promote safety. When they communicate to their supervisors they sometimes emphasis that production is more important than the time required to controlling a hazard. This happens when extrinsic factors are introduced like timelines being condensed, employees call in sick, supplies are late or unexpected concerns are discovered. These extrinsic factors impact the deadline. This pressure has the supervisor put production in conflict with safety. The result is the supervisor communicatees to the employee to ‘do the job or else’.
What occurs when production is leveraged against safety is that the supervisor plays the hazard against the workers basic needs as seen in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Because our basic needs of food, shelter, warmth etc come before our safety needs, people will choose time and again to provide for their basic needs over safety. It is a means of leveraging employee’s behaviors to gain compliance we have used for thousands of years.
Now the scenario is set for an incident to happen because the supervisor decision was impacted by trying to meet a deadline. This occurs as the supervisors basic needs include completing tasks and meeting deadlines. It is how supervisors support their families. Yet their decision was not in alignment with top managements production or safety goals.
Reinforcing The Message
So how does an organization correct this miscommunication? Correct this decision-making process that occurs with supervisors when they feel the pressure of their basic needs to produce over the extrinsic factors that impact deadlines.
A simple solution is to include a pre-recorded message from the CEO expressing their belief in a safe work environment during supervisors training . By sending a clear message to the supervisors it will direct the decision-making process to align production with safety when these extrinsic factors occur. And these extrinsic factors will occur!
In this training also teach the supervisors that missing deadlines is an expected and normal part of doing business. Whereas an incident is not an expected or normal part of doing business. In doing so, educate how an incident costs far more time, money, effort, and reputation to clean up an incident then being late on a deadline ever could.
Send a clear message. So clear there is no room for supervisors to leverage safety or make it expendable.
Incidents happen for many reasons. One reason is communications breakdowns. Understanding where and why these breakdowns occur helps to correct and promote better decision-making impact how we completing tasks. This will communicate the message top management initially desired. A message where the employee is more valuable than a deadline.
The journey to zero is considered an impossible goal. Yet it can be the only acceptable goal when it comes to incident prevention. By protecting people instead of leveraging them to produce brings us one step closer to achieving this goal.
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