When it comes to this blog, you can always count on an article by Robert Pater to fill a couple of spots of content here. As one who is a big believer in the success of companies that have a safety culture and not just a safety program, I am always interested in Pater’s articles about safety culture and safety leadership.
He joined forces with Ron Bowles, his colleague at MoveSMART, to write a piece in a recent Professional Safety magazine issue to discuss the positive impacts of changes in ergonomics on overall incident rates in workplaces. The clear message was that small steps in changing culture – such as having better ergonomics in the workplace – can be all that is needed to dramatically decrease injuries to soft tissue and other minor strains and sprains that can often lead to a loss of productivity and an increase in time-loss events.
In the last post, I introduced you to the gist of Pater and Bowles’ most recent article, which gave some examples of the impact of ergonomics on injury and incident rates – namely, how bad ergonomics create a large percentage of reported injuries in companies, and the impact of ergonomic remediation can create rapid and positive results in a very short time.
Although the companies featured in the article as case-study examples are quite divergent in their sizes and industries, Pater and Bowles did mention that each of the companies achieved three common “triggers” for sustainable culture change and growth when it comes to safety.
The 3 Triggers
No matter the approach that each company undertook to improve their injury and incident rates, Pater and Bowles noted three common triggers from each approach that are believed to be the secrets to sustained safety and improvement over the long term – in oher words, the triggers for a culture change.
- Rank-and-file enthusiasm. Safety by itself is not usually a topic or subject matter than workers think about, or consider as a factor in deciding where to work. But those companies that can get their workers interested and understanding the value of effective safety and how it benefits them, can do wonders with their culture. Safety is best served from the bottom up, when the grassroots are involved.
- Maximize what is available. When it seems that a company doesn’t have the resources it needs to conduct good safety across the entire company, there is the concept of focus. Like concentrating all the light into a laser that burns through metal, focusing all of your resources in one area (in this case, ergonomics), both in capital and human investment, can create some impactful and immediate benefits. The money you ultimately save by having this focused priority can enable you to develop more resources to address other issues later. Find the one or top priority and put all your resources toward that first.
- Don’t make it rote. It is one thing to teach your workers what they need to know to be “basically” safe and compliant with safety protocols and to do act and behave rightly when “the cameras are on.” It’s another thing, and far more sustainable, to take your workers to another level, where their behaviors and actions that are safe become part of their DNA; ithey are part of their everyday routine where they can’t turn work off when at home. The worker knows it, embraces it and appreciates it. This is not about treating them as programmable robots, but getting them to understand and feel within their bones that what they do to be and stay safe is the right thing to do for themselves. When they are emotionally invested in their behaviors and actions, they will own them and be more accountable.
Acceptable is Not
We can admit that we have all fallen victim to being oversold. We see ads that promote higher Internet speeds, when they really aren’t. We are sold a great low-interest loan, but we know that the annual percentage rate is higher because of fees and other hidden costs. We know that we can get zero percent financing for 60 months on approved credit – “approved credit” being 1 in 100 people.
Because we know that being oversold is “normal” and expected in our society, that can sometimes lead to skepticism, cynicism and perhaps some laziness, that having an “acceptable” level of safety is enough.
This is a rut, and it needs to change, wrote Pater and Bowles.
This type of thinking comes from seeing a problem, seeking a quick answer or remedy and not finding it. When the reality is that the idea to resolve the problem isn’t quick, some companies will just not bother to put in the effort necessary to take safety to that next level – they’ll be happy with “good enough” because they are already satisfied with the results they have, and they don’t see how an investment in resources or time to get from 80 percent to 90 percent or 95 percent is worthwhile.
Is zero incidents impossible? Perhaps, but it doesn’t mean you don’t still find ways to try to get there. Companies should never rest on their laurels; like the innovations they create to diversify their offerings and maximize profit and market share, the same approach should be taken with safety. Successful companies are never happy with the innovations they’ve already made; they are always pushing for more and better products or services to serve their evolving markets.
In the next post, we’ll investigate Pater and Bowles’ Six Exemplary Principles and Processes tin effective safety culture.