Safety 2013: Four Clues Your Safety Culture Is Out of Balance

Safety 2013: Four Clues Your Safety Culture Is Out of Balance

During a June 26 presentation at ASSE Safety 2013 in Las Vegas, Robert E. Grieve shared how a fall from a horse revealed that his attitude about safety was out of balance.

When Rodney E. Grieve and his family set out to go horseback riding during a vacation in Spain, he had no idea that his horse would teach him an important lesson about workplace safety culture.

It all started when Grieve, a founding partner of Branta Worldwide Inc., remained complacent even after his horse bucked and reared early in the day. Because he was not injured and was able to carry on with a pleasant ride, he decided everything was fine. But everything wasn’t fine when his horse later bolted, setting off a chain reaction that not only landed Grieve in the dust but also caused his nine-year-old daughter to fall of her own horse and suffer a concussion.

“How did I put my family in this situation?” Grieve asked Safety 2013 attendees. “I realized that I had accepted that day a ‘be safe’ mentality – as long as nobody got hurt [when the horse initially bucked and reared], it’s OK.”

If Grieve had instead cultivated a “be successful” mentality, he would not have proceeded on that particular horse and may have saved his family some trauma. Similarly, in the workplace, focusing only on lowering OSHA recordables is equivalent to the “be safe” mentality – as long as no one gets hurt right now, it’s OK. But “right now” doesn’t secure a safe culture that ensures everyone is safe in the future.

According to Grieve, four elements must be balanced in a safe workplace culture: experience, technical knowledge, focus and pace. If you tip out of balance in any of these areas, your workers might be at risk.

Here are four clues that suggest you’re falling out of balance and creating a cultural hazard:

Four Cultural Clues

Clue #1: “Management won’t do anything until someone gets hurt.” If a front-line employee observes that the safety conversation is elevated only after someone gets hurt, he will (rightfully) think it takes an injury to urge the company to act.

Clue #2: “I can’t believe my employee would do something so stupid.” Leaders who say this about the work force are off the mark. According to Grieve, companies must create accountability and responsibility within their leaders and help them instill values and behaviors that yield safe results. Instead of blaming workers for doing something “stupid,” leaders must foster a safe environment through their communication and leadership.

Clue #3: “I just knew someone was going to get hurt doing that!” This clue demonstrates the need to cultivate a “be successful” mentality. In other words, it’s not enough to go home at the end of the day with the same number of fingers and toes  – after all, you might have simply been lucky that day. Instead, safety must permeate the organization at all times.

Clue #4: “You had a lost-time incident! What are you going to do about it?” The common employer response to an incident is to impose corrective action, such as discipline and retraining. While it may be easier to discipline employees, coaching them to do the right thing (and rewarding them for a job well done) can be more effective. “The incident analysis must find a way to prevent [the incident] from happening again, and it also must build trust,” Grieve said. “If you destroy trust, you’re only going to hear about big incidents, and hazardous conditions will go unrecognized and uncorrected.”

“When thinking of safety as a result, not as a regulatory issue but as a leadership issue, you realize it comes down to one thing: making a choice,” Grieve added. “You can drop the reins and grab the mane or pick up the reins and take control ... It comes down to a choice to lead.”

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