Are You Talking Too Much About Safety?
By Carl and Deb Potter
company leaders and managers wonder, “Are we talking about safety
too much?” The answer: “No one but you knows.” How much “safety
talk” is too much? Before you answer that question, you need to
realize that many employees and managers are overloaded with
communications these days. So when it comes to talking about safety,
you could be dealing with more of a social problem than a corporate
communication issue. With the war in the Middle East, political
unrest in our capital, and life coming at us so fast, everyone may
be a little overwhelmed. That’s why talking about safety
effectively is more important than ever.
Talking Safety: The fact is that the majority of company leaders
want to talk about safety. Injuries are a concern for everyone: They
are emotional triggers, and they hurt everyone in the organization
and at home. Nobody wants to see another person hurt, and nobody
wants to get hurt.
this question: How can you talk about safety in such a way that your
employees don’t get sick of hearing about it and therefore stop
listening? Here’s the answer: Stick to developing, maintaining, and
improving the safety process. This is a simple answer for a complex
issue, but consider what it means to focus on the process rather
than on the emotions.
Emotions Of Safety: Too often people view and deal with safety
in an emotional way. Management gets frustrated when injuries occur
and eventually they come out swinging “the safety hammer.” Pressure
mounts and the managers step-up their discipline (or corrective
Recently, a safety director for a large company described a
situation where an employee was fatally injured and two others
experienced serious injuries. For years the safety director had
tried to get management’s attention about needed improvements, but
without success. Now everyone in the company seems to be a safety
expert; every executive has the answer—and everyone has a
this kind of situation emerges, everything becomes a mess. Finger
pointing abounds, and the employees choose sides: Either the problem
is technical or it’s the people. Employees often begin to be fearful
of retribution and decide not to report incidents or injuries.
Should this scenario ever occur in your company, you need to diffuse
the situation by focusing on the safety process.
Safety Process: In order to maintain safety at a level that
prevents injuries, you first have to work on dealing with the
emotional issues so the focus is on good decision-making. Realize
that safety is both art and science and needs to be treated as such.
The “art” is about dealing with people—establishing
accountabilities, holding people responsible, and building trust.
The “science” of safety is about dealing with behavioral and
technical processes. Hazard control is an example of a process that
includes both behavioral and technical aspects.
technical process of safety involves identifying the hazard, abating
or controlling it, engineering so it no longer exists, or changing
work processes to include the use of protective or personal
hazard control has been established, practiced, and proven over
time, workers and leaders accept it as normal, and it becomes
“common sense” safety. Sometimes acceptance of a new rule or work
practice seems to take a while. And often, people don’t even
understand their own resistance to the process.
Million Dollar Question: Bob, a safety committee chairperson,
works in an industry where workers are required to wear protective
personal equipment (PPE). When people don’t wear the appropriate PPE,
the results can be devastating because workers are exposed to the
hazards of high voltage electricity. As Bob explains: “We had
someone get hurt last month because he wasn’t wearing sleeves with
his high voltage rubber gloves. We all know that it’s a good work
practice to wear the sleeves, so why doesn’t everyone just do it?
Why don’t they get it?”
don’t workers get it?” That’s the $1,000,000 question. Experience
shows that acceptance of new rules, regulations, and work practices
happens faster when workers are engaged in the process of
determining the appropriate PPE for the hazards of their job.
It On The Wall To See What Sticks: They key, therefore, is to
get employees involved. Think about it…What would happen if workers
in your organization listed the hazards they face every day, and
then identified and quickly adopted a solution without
emotion? An organization’s ability to function without emotion and
make correct decisions depends on the availability of internal
following three steps to guide your workers and leaders to discuss
the “best practices” with regard to hazard control:
every work team (usually no more than 20 people) meet and facilitate
a session by asking this question: What hazards does our team
face each day that can cause injury to people and damage to
equipment? Then list each hazard on the far left side of flip
chart paper. Your work team could easily fill up more than a dozen
ask the team: What rules and safe work practices do we use to
prevent injury to people and damage to equipment? (If you have a
company safety book, use it for a resource.) Write the responses
next to each hazard on the list. Make sure everyone participates and
understands the controls.
Finally, ask the team: Which of these controls can I place a
check next to that we will always do? Most of the time the
response will be… All of them! Discuss this last question at
length with the team and confirm that they understand that always
using these controls will provide a 99.9% probability that nobody
Action For A Safe Workplace: Sure, some people may think your
company talks about safety too much, and maybe they’re right. Yet
safety is an important topic that needs to be discussed. Consider
how you can get everyone involved in the discussion and how you can
encourage them to take action to ensure that nobody gets hurt. When
you do, you’re likely to find the answer to that $1,000,000
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and Deb Potter.
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