Ehstoday 3782 Shy

Don’t Be Shy About Safety!

Aug. 21, 2015
Unlike in a manufacturing setting, where there is often someone dedicated to employee health and safety in each facility, managers in low-risk environments often experience difficulty creating a safety program with such limited resources.

Safety and risk management are top priorities in high-risk environments such as manufacturing plants where employees work daily with heavy equipment, hazardous chemicals and numerous other risks. One wrong step could be costly, or worse, deadly.

In environments like these, continuous training and rigorous procedures help protect employees from personal harm and the company from financial or brand damaging incidents. As a result, active management of environment, health and safety (EHS) risks is embedded in the company culture and the employees are highly aware of the risks.    

On the other hand, a focus on worker safety in low-risk environments – retail, call centers, offices, etc. – is frequently overlooked, although equally important. These organizations often rely on a relatively small staff of safety professionals, human resources personnel or security guards who are few in number and removed from the vast majority of the workforce to manage this risk.

Unlike in a manufacturing setting, where there is often someone dedicated to employee health and safety in each facility, managers in low-risk environments often experience difficulty creating a safety program with such limited resources.

Not only are resources limited in low-risk environments, but another issue to contend with is employees failing to speak up when they see their coworkers at risk.

In a recent survey conducted by Antea Group, 46 percent of all employees in low-risk environments responded that they would not intervene if they saw something unsafe happening. And for the 64 percent who said they would intervene if they saw something unsafe, the survey found that 38 percent of the employees who were told they were doing something unsafe would be offended at the time of intervention.

A Caring Culture

To mitigate these concerns, a “caring culture” should be established in low-risk environments, promoting an environment of openness, where employees feel “safe” to point out safety risks or concerns.

A caring culture is not something that can be developed through training programs alone. It also relies on ongoing and persistent messaging and leadership acceptance and adoption.

EHS managers are in a position to drive and reinforce a caring culture by reinforcing interpersonal skills for giving and receiving feedback, as well as addressing hierarchical or generational issues that may impede training and communication.

A caring culture that holds everyone accountable for safety is essential for a low-risk environment. It is not about reporting unsafe acts to the EHS manager; it should empower employees to speak up when observing coworkers in hazardous situations. Leverage the greatest assets available to the organization and the EHS manager, the employees themselves.   

There are other longer-term benefits of a caring culture. Something seemingly benign like incorrect posture, or sitting for long periods of time, may not seem like an immediate or acute problem right away, but severe long-term issues stem from these situations that a caring culture diminishes. Here are factors to consider when developing a successful caring culture:

Risk Recognition: A First Step.
EHS managers know the risks employees can encounter and the means necessary to mitigate those risks. The challenge is helping the employees recognize those risks. Risk identification and awareness training are necessary first steps for establishing a peer safety initiative.  

Giving and Receiving Feedback: An Acquired Skillset

One of the most challenging aspects of establishing a caring culture is making it safe for employees to give and receive feedback. Employees are often nervous to point out unsafe acts by a fellow employee, and it is human nature for the person receiving the feedback to be surprised or to take personal offense to critiques.

Getting people to report unsafe behavior will be a struggle without training the proper interpersonal skill sets for feedback. Provide training that focuses on skill sets for both giving and receiving feedback, which will result in a more open and honest discussion.

All Things are Not Created Equal – Providing Feedback to a Superior

Providing feedback to a peer is a challenge but providing feedback to a superior can seem almost insurmountable. Recognize this dynamic is almost certainly present and address it in the interpersonal training, taking into consideration that safety has nothing to do with questioning authority; employees should want what is best for each other regardless of position or title.

Safety should be a priority for all companies and by establishing a culture that values and encourages worker safety – no matter the risk level – workers can feel protected and the company as well.

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