Effective Communication Is the Answer
By: Matt Wireman, BS, CHST, CRIS
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’m going to get hurt today.” Almost every person can agree that pain is not a desirable thing and we want to avoid it. Everyone’s mind works differently when they process how they will keep from getting hurt or injured from day to day. People might wear a seat belt simply out of habit. Others may wear a seat belt because it’s the law while some may not wear a seat belt at all because it feels uncomfortable. Making sure people and employees understand “why” makes a big difference when it comes to compliance.
When we as safety professionals, for example, walk onto a job site and identify an employee operating a tamper machine with the metatarsal guards five feet away, not being worn, do we just simply take a picture and walk away or do we take the time to understand why the employee did not wear them? There are many reasons why this may have happened and chances are it’s not because the employee wanted to get hurt. Instead, we need to dig deeper into every unsafe act and find out why instead of waiting until an accident happens and decide now its time to conduct a deep dive. No matter how small the unsafe act may seem it will eventually lead to a much larger accident and even possibly a fatality. Turns out the employee was only going to be using the tamper machine for a short time and thought that steel toed boots were good enough. After explaining to the employee, the importance of the metatarsal protectors and the reason for wearing them they had a much better understanding and made every effort to comply going forward. You see, the employee was never trained on proper foot protection for the job. The employee was simply told by his Foreman and other authority figures to wear them because it was a rule.
When completing a project safety inspection, we need to not only find the hazards and unsafe acts, but we also need to figure out “why”. In most instances this is a great opportunity to engage with the employee and help them understand the importance of certain practices and procedures. Chances are you may both learn something new! Employees receive training on all types of topics, but process information learned in different ways. Some individuals may be hands-on where others may find it easier to listen or read about the topic. There may be cases where the individual felt intimidated to ask a question in a large crowd or was too afraid to speak in front of their fellow coworkers. Whatever the case, we need to take every opportunity to make sure each employee understands safety. If we really care about each individual and their safety, we should want to do everything in our power to make sure they are completing every task in the safest manner. You never want to be considered a “safety cop” by simply checking off boxes on an inspection sheet and taking pictures for a report. You need to engage with the employee in conversation. Get to know the employee. Learn more about what they do. What are their hobbies? Do they have kids? What are their favorite sports teams? People are more inclined to listen, ask questions and comply when they see the desire of caring. Safety is not just a job, it is a passion, and with that comes the challenge of winning the hearts and minds of everyone around us. Building personal relationships will go a long way!