The Safety Experience

the safety experience

Terry Mathis, the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, recently published an article in EHSToday entitled “The Safety Experience“.  In the article, Mathis discusses turning safety programs into positive experiences for workers that keep them motivated and engaged.  His key to this is to treat workers “as the clients of their safety programs rather than problems to be controlled.”

To help you understand how he has come to this line of thinking, Mathis looks to marketing and sales experts.  According to them, buying decisions are based on three criteria: value, price and experience.  While there was a time that all three criteria were weighed equally, experience has become more and more important in recent years.  By treating workers as clients and taking into account that experience is the most important part of getting someone to buy something, you need to consider “What is the worker’s experience when they participate in our safety programs?”

The common aspects of safety programs are: training, meetings, rules and procedures, supervision oversight and disciplinary actions.  You need to consider how each of these adds to the safety experience to be able to improve it.

  • Training: While safety training varies greatly in quality and effectiveness, the majority of it is repetitive and monotonous.  Most workers do not think they learn anything in training that they do not already know.  While some may concede that the reminders can be helpful, no one finds it effective.  Is a training experience that workers find ineffective selling them on the safety program’s value?
  • Meetings: Some safety meetings are well-run, but most are held simply for compliance.  While necessary information is delivered to workers, little or no effort is made to help with retention or improve the quality of future training.  Do boring, seemingly useless meetings help workers buy into the safety program?
  • Rules and Procedures: Rules and procedures exist to eliminate or reduce hazards.  Compliance with rules and procedures is influenced by training, supervision and enforcement.  Despite various influences on compliance workers tend to either consistently ignore rules or comply with them with a feeling of safety.  The problem is that compliance does not guarantee safety.  Violations can obviously lead to accidents, but compliance can easily lead to accidents as well if there are not rules and procedures for every risk contingency.  Even if workers are compliant, it is very easy for them to limit their thinking to compliance and ignore dangers provided by low-probability risks.
  • Supervision Oversight: Are production supervisors or safety professionals responsible for overseeing day-to-day safety?  Production supervisors tend to be more concerned with production while safety professionals are more concerned with safety, which can slow production.  Ideally, organizations want safe production, so your company needs to be aware of the potentially dichotomous atmosphere provided by safety professionals and production supervisors.  Production that is efficient and safe should be everyone’s concern.
  • Disciplinary Actions: Whether disciplinary actions are used to show how seriously a company takes safety or as a reaction to non-compliance, it is often ineffective.  No matter what, discipline has negative side effects.  It is often ineffective because of its lack of timeliness and inconsistency and damages relationships and culture.  “Does compliance with our safety programs create an experience that sells workers on the program?”  Chances are your company’s disciplinary actions are not helping sell workers on the program.

“People take care of what they own.”  Is your safety program something workers can be engage in?  Do they take ownership of it?  Are you doing everything you can to help encourage them to take ownership?

Resource: The Safety Experience

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