The Safety Bubble
Why do people often have a reaction when we approach their safety? Sometimes they pushback with anger, frustration, insults and even violence, like in cases of road rage. When we understand what causes this pushback we can reduce and remove these emotional reactions as we improve how to communicate about other peoples safety.
Safety isn’t the only aspect of our lives we do not like others to talk about. Similar topics are religion, politics, how to spend your money, how to raise your children, sexuality, and gun control. These topics are sacred to people and we protect them vehemently because we feel someone is trying to tell us how to live our lives.
This same reaction occurs when we talk about other peoples safety. They will pushback as they perceived someone is trying to tell them how to live their life. To protect themselves they resort to dismissive statements like “no body moves, no body gets hurt”. They literally will tell you to leave them alone. In some cases, they even react with unbridled anger. Just comment on another persons driving habits to witness how quickly these reactions can occur.
What Is the Safety Bubble?
This reaction is what I call the Safety Bubble. The concept is that we put certain aspects of their life in protective bubbles and close them off to others. When we poke or prod other peoples bubbles they tend to pop. Just like a bubble, people do not pop nicely. This popping we witness is them perceiving someone was trying to control their life.
Unlike those other topics, with safety no one is trying to control their life. Instead it is simply an action to turn an uncontrolled hazard into a controlled hazard. Controlling the hazard protects the workers life which allows them to continue to live their life according to the things they value. Instead of telling them how to live, we are actually helping them to live their life by preventing harm to them! The goal then is to help them see that safety should not be in a protective bubble as safety does tell us how to live instead it only helps us to live.
Popping The Safety Bubble
Unfortunately, you cannot remove another person’s protective bubble. The person who created the bubble is the only one that can remove it. In order to remove their safety bubble we must first find ways to enter it.
To enter some ones safety bubble you must ask if you can enter it, just as if you would ask to enter their house. By gaining their approval to enter their bubble they have subconsciously allowed you to talk about their safety. This can be as simple as saying “hi Bill/Sue I noticed there is a trip hazard to your left, can we talk about it?” When talking about their safety, be sure to emphasize the hazard instead of the worker or their behavior. By doing this you will eliminate accusation-based comments that often cause people to feel they are being attacked.
Accusation-based comments often come in the form of you-statements. Examples of you-statements are: “Why are you doing it this way”, ‘you need to fix this”, “you screwed up”, “it’s your responsibility. These types of statements shift the focus from the hazard to the person. In contrast, safety is all about controlling a hazard and not the person! The person should only be receive direction on controlling the hazard.
After the hazard has been controlled emphasize that the job did not change. The only difference was that the job was completed in an improved way where the hazards were controlled. By gaining this recognition will lead them to being more open about discussing their safety. In time they will remove the safety bubble altogether as the come to see the benefit of a controlled hazard.
A Culture of Care
We all are prone to putting topics into protective bubbles. Understanding these bubbles exist allows us to have meaningful communication. By focusing on the hazards we can discuss safety in meaningful ways. This leads to successful completion of the task where no one was hurt. When we help people succeed while reducing hard to them they see we care and this builds trust. It will take time and practice but with improved communication people will see your only objective is to turn uncontrolled hazard into controlled hazard. This will lead to building a culture of care.
“Going home everyday the same way you came in” will no longer be a slogan they see as they drive through the company gates. Instead, it becomes a shared value they cherish, talk about and strive for!