NSC: Busting the “Safety is Boring” Myth

Oct. 7, 2010
During the closing session of the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo on Oct. 6, Richard Hawk discussed the future of safety and encouraged EHS professionals to lighten up their safety training – and improve worker productivity, safety and well-being in the process.

“Your safety program should be fun,” Hawk told NSC attendees. “Your employees should think your safety program is something that makes them feel good.”

Hawk, who spent years working in radiation safety and as a supervisor and trainer, made it his mission to help people love their training. Yes, even safety training. Hawk told NSC attendees that he wanted to break through some of the common misconceptions – starting with the “boring” issue.

Misconception #1: Safety is boring. It’s no secret that safety has a bad reputation for being less than thrilling. “Here’s the problem,” Hawk said. “Safety isn’t boring. You’re boring. It’s up to you whether to make it fun or not.”

Safety, Hawk explained, actually is exciting. It is more varied than many other topics and involves aspects such as human behavior, equipment, motivation and so on. “The new reality is safety is sexy,” Hawk said. “We can make it that way. We can make it really hip and cool. You can do this with any subject.”

Furthermore, Hawk said, EHS professionals need to avoid the misconception that safety is all about rules and regulations. “Yes, you need to know those things,” he said. “But certainly, once you have a well-educated work force, you can move on.”

Misconception #2: Rates rule! Hawk pointed out that with OSHA recordable rates dropping lower year after year, the time has come to stop focusing so strongly on recordable rates. If the rates are low, then focus on other, more meaningful areas.

“I see this happening more and more in the future,” he said. “Companies are realizing it’s a waste of time trying to look for one accident that might happen and spending a lot of resources when we have employees – 40,000 a year – dying on the highway. We’re starting to get that message. Pull some of your resources from the places you have done well to low-hanging fruit that will be worth the time and effort.”

Hawk was quick to point out that he wasn’t advocating spending less time or effort on safety. Instead, he said, a larger share of that time and energy should be spent on the things that really get people harmed. The new reality in this case, he explained, is that top-notch safety and health programs focus on the entire person, not on numbers.

Misconception #3: We base our decisions on logic. Not true, Hawk said. In reality, we base our decisions on emotions. EHS professions should learn to help employees overcome the emotions that lead to risky decisions, such as texting while driving, getting angry and cutting off other drivers and so on. Helping workers feel part of a team is an excellent step in the right direction.

“The new reality is that emotions rule,” he said. “To have your safety program be about rules and regulations just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Aggression, frustration, anger, rage, irritation and hostility are all emotions that can lead to unsafe actions. Furthermore, depression is a pervasive problem that can have a significant impact on a work force, Hawk said. Workers will perform better and stay healthier if they get help for their depression. In addition, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, exercising and eating right can have an enormous benefit on worker well-being and productivity.

“The future of safety is doing all these things,” Hawk said. “Once you start getting over misconceptions, wonderful things start happening.”

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