13 Dec How praise and involvement help you along your safety journey
Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy something that instantly prevents all accidents at work? Everyone would be safe and they could get on with their jobs.
Reality is that no safety programme can truly promise that. Because strong safety culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to change attitudes and convince people that safety isn’t just another irksome target to meet.
“‘Soft, fluffy and pathetic’ – that’s what I’ve heard people call modern methods for improving safety … the same people who hide behind their clipboards.”
Derek Boulton is EHS Manager at Invensys Rail whose workforce builds railway control and communication systems in hazardous track-side environments. And they’ve just achieved an impressive two million hours without a lost time injury.
Derek firmly believes that safety is a journey. One that doesn’t and shouldn’t ever end.
“The thing about praise is it reinforces safe behaviour… indirectly too, for people who see their workmates being praised. It’s an agent for change. Research proves it and we’ve seen it ourselves.”
When appropriate, a conversation that commends an individual’s safe behaviour has longer-lasting positive effects than chastising someone for an unsafe act. Because it affirms desirable behaviour then encourages more of it in the future:
“Real commitment comes from a conversation about the individual… their behaviour, the circumstances they’re in and the consequences that their individual actions might have on people they know.”
It’s professional and sympathetic conversations that gain real commitment to change. Because instead of an individual feeling told off, they feel involved and valued.
But if you’re the well-trained SUSA observer leading that conversation, there’s always a risk you might feel tied up in the process and come across like you’re reading straight from the rule book.
“It takes time to get it right”
“We use mentors, build people’s confidence first and encourage double-acts. It’s not the easiest thing to do, some people are naturals, others take a long time to get better – and that’s OK too.”
Just like your organisation’s journey of continual self-improvement, better safety engagement develops over time too. Strong safety culture can’t simply be bought off a shelf. It’s a perpetual progression that should evolve and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
That’s a concept demonstrated by Invensys’ unending commitment to their Stop and Talk programme. It acknowledges a journey of continual improvement in safety culture with the longevity needed to support it.
Derek is pragmatic about Stop and Talk’s ambitions too:
“Behavioural safety has to go hand in hand with the physical environment being totally safe… but as you know that’s impossible.”
So if it’s not feasible for an environment and everyone in it to be completely safe, what should your goal realistically be?
“We want people to keep an eye out for their mates; that’s our ‘panacea’. Safety leaders can’t always be around to watch over them, but their mates can.”
Like praise, friends watching out for each other helps your safety message spread amongst workers on the front-line. It’s based on powerful mutual trust and sets a strong social norm for shared responsibility of safety.
“The principle is: more exposure to Stop and Talk means fewer people getting hurt.”
Good training and well-equipped staff might feel like your safety destination because it does reduce the immediate risks. But when people feel involved and deeply committed to your programme, they’ll join you for the journey and bring longer-lasting culture change for better safety.