“Oh no! Safety is here! We should stop working so we don’t get in trouble!”
Almost every safety professional has been in a similar position to this one. You drive up to a job site and everyone on site stops working because they are afraid that they are going to get in trouble for doing something wrong. As Safety Professionals, we do not want to be viewed as a Safety Cop, but rather a coach, mentor, and teammate.
One good way to get over this hump is to make sure that you are not pulling up onsite at the same time every day, only spending ten or fifteen minutes onsite, and strolling around the job site with a cup of coffee in your hand, as these acts could give the impression that you think you are better than the employees doing the work. These acts also can show a disengagement towards the employees. It may seem to the workers that you, the safety professional, are only there because you are forced to be and want to spend as little time on site as possible. Instead, show the workers that you are there for their success. Be more personable with them, or maybe even help them lift something as you walk the job site; employees tend to communicate more with you the more you engage with them. Ask them if they have any plans for the weekend, how their family is doing, or find a common interest to talk to them about while you are onsite. Interacting with employees will help them understand that Safety Professionals are not onsite just to write them up or stop work.
Although Safety Professionals are trained to look for the hazards and the “bad” things, one of the best things we can do is find people doing things right so we can congratulate them and make them an example of how to do things in the future. Success breeds success. Make sure that you are sharing worker successes with the leadership team so they can emphasize them in the next team meeting.
Something that can also improve your relationship with employees is to reframe the “See Something, Say Something” saying to “See Something, Do Something”. Give your employees the power to do something about issues they see. If they see something on site and correct the issue, it should be known as a good thing, rather than as telling on someone for doing something wrong. If we put the workers in our shoes and empower them to act, we may help get rid of the “Safety Cop” stigma that has existed since the beginning of safety.
Lastly, to not be pinned as a “Safety Cop” we need to practice a mentality of not only sharing knowledge with workers but learning from them as well. The employees are the ones doing the work every day, so you can most likely learn a lot from them. Expand your knowledge and listen to them. If you use their suggestions and give them a voice, you will see a big difference next time you visit the job site.