By Carl Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb
Potter, PhD, CMC,
Potter and Associates International, Inc.
Many company leaders and managers wonder, "Are we talking about
safety too much?" The answer: "No one but you knows." Realize that
everyone may be a little overwhelmed with all kinds of communications
and distractions. That’s why talking about safety effectively is more
important than ever.
The fact is that it’s important 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.
Consider 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
THE 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
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 different solution.
When 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
THE 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
Hazard control is an example of a process that includes both
behavioral and technical aspects.
The 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
When a 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.
THE 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?"
"Why 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.
In your next safety meeting, take time to engage workers in a
discussion about what the hazards are in their workplace. Get them to
think both deep and broad about dangers they can encounter. Make a list
of these on a flip chart so everyone can see. Then ask what can be done
to control each hazard. Be sure to use your safety rule book and
documented safe work practices during this discussion.
Finally, ask the
group "Which of these controls will we always do?" Most of the time, the
answer will be "All of them!" When workers get involved in this kind of
discussion, it can have a big influence on how your organization talks
TAKE 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
About the authors
Carl Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD, CMC
work with organizations that want to create an environment where nobody
gets hurt. As advocates of a zero-injury workplace, they are safety
speakers, authors, and consultants to industry. For information about
bringing Carl and Deb to your company or your next conference, contact
them at Potter and Associates International, Inc. 800-259-6209 or
Potter and Associates International, Inc.