The Relationship of Safety and Trust

The Relationship of Safety and Trust

A Culture 0f Care Blog Series #2

Spencer Beach
Sept 13, 2021


In Part 1 of the A Culture of Care blog series we learned how OSHA has had significant results in decreasing incident rates. OSHA achieved this by focusing on controlling the source of the energy. As a result, the incident rate reduced by approximately 50% from the pre-OSHA era. This statistic shows controlling energy alone worked but is not enough to reducing all incidents. There is still much work to do with huge gains to achieve. To further reduce incidents policies must be developed to include behaviors and increase buy-in of the safety policies.

In Part 2 of this series, we will look at the decline of trust and how this impacted employees’ behaviors and questioning management’s motives. Specifically, how building high trust in the workplace can increase employees buy-in of the safety system and decrease incidents.

The Decline of Trust

We live in a world where we’ve never had it better. Workplaces have human rights laws. Modern medicine and secure food supply chains have increased quality of life and life expectancy rates. Government aid is there to help the less fortunate. Information is in the palm of our hands and yet statistics show people are increasingly unhappy. Simply scroll through social media and you’ll find a longlist of crumbling’s that society has. They don’t trust the government, media, big pharma, billionaires, religion, business, police, banks and authority figures. Trust is rapidly declining within our society.

Yet, if we go back 70 years trust was a core-value in society because society was different then. The population was one-third of what it is today. Stores were closed on Sundays. Politicians could be approached. Churches were built in walking distance and almost everyone attended church. Media reported news through a newspaper or 1 hour in the evening. Communities were tightknit and built by family units. Parks were filled with children playing. Families ate at home and extended families had weekly meals together. All these interactions built relationships and high trust thrived. This high trust also allowed for a command-and-control leadership style to work.

Then the world changed. Populations increased and so did communities. People moved far away from their hometown. We stopped going to church. Media constantly bombards us. Interacting with politicians became difficult as they were given security details. Parks became empty.  Because of this, these changes decreased our interactions with others which impacted our ability to building relationships. Subsequently, our well-known neighbors became complete strangers. In fact, close relationships are also in decline as people report they have fewer close friends now than ever before.

It is not surprising that with this decrease of relationships, trust also declined.

Understanding Trust to Improve Safety

There are two keyways on how trust works. They are:

  • Low trust versus high trust, and
  • Predictive trust and value-based trust

Low trust versus high trust is a measurement of trust. This measurement provides valuable insight into why we react in favorable or unfavorable ways towards new policies, legislations, news, or instructions. The more trust one has (high trust), the more likely people will do as asked with little to no reservations. Whereas the more we lack trust (low trust) the more people become disengaged while questioning everything.

Predictive trust and value-based trust are different types of trust. Predictive trust is trust gained when one demonstrates they are reliable, consistent, and dependable. Examples of this are:

  • keeping commitments,
  • repaying debts on time,
  • keeping confidential or sensitive information of others, and
  • telling the truth.

Value-based trust is trust gained from building relationships. This allows individuals to believe in people’s motives, integrity, and fairness. Examples of these are:

  • Doing what you ask of others,
  • Sharing trade secrets and experience,
  • Taking time to help others,
  • Engaging people, and
  • Empowering others to do important tasks.

Understanding these differences in trust consider these statistics and how trust, or lack of it, effects the workplace.

These statistics are alarming to say the least but send a clear message to any leader. That message is trust is lacking in the workplace. As we will see this can have broad consequences throughout the organization.

Safety & Trust

Think back to when you first heard about safety. As a safety awareness speaker, I can not tell you how many times I have heard a senior leader address the workforce with a safety message of “do this new policy because we say so” (command and control)! Unfortunately, that manager had low trust with the employees because the time required to build value-based trust was not established. Even though the policy was designed solely for the employees benefit they questioned managements motives due to having low trust.

In fact, I can attest that prior to many presentations I have had multiple employees communicate to me “management does not believe in safety”. This screams that this employee has low trust of managements motives and intentions.

This command-and-control message would have worked 70 years ago as that leader was Bill or Sue from down the street. They live at 555 Smith Drive where they have that annual block party you’ve been too 15 times. Your dad fishes with them every summer. And you go to the same church where you got this job. Therefore value-based trust was already built, and high trust was gained which allowed you to accept their authority.

Fast forward 70 years and Bill or Sue came in for this meeting from corporate office. This is only interactions you may have with them this year. Interactions where they do all the communicating, from a stage. They are not even approachable. Consequently, low trust caused the employee to question management motives and then they say things like “management does not believe in safety”.

Building Trust into Safety

Thankfully, building trust is not as hard is it may appear. Although you may not have the same weekly engagements with others we used to have, it does not mean we cannot build relationships. The key is to spend meaningful time and find ways to engage with others. This requires management to incorporate new techniques in how we do things.

Ways to increase time spent with employees and build value-based trust, are:


Finally, building trust will make the workplace happier, healthier, more productive, more profitable and safer. Although build trust may be daunting, it can be quite easy when we look for ways to include, engage and empower employees. Furthermore, spending time together will build and repair relationships. Appling this to the safety policies will result in more effective policies, higher employee engagement, increased buy-in, reducing incidents, reduced costs and a belief that management cares about safety. When people believe in something they tend to make it work!

Click here to inquire on Spencer’s availability for a presentation to your employees.


  • The Speed of Trust; Stephen M. R, Covey