Safety Matters: Factors that lead to unsafe attitudes

Safety policies and practices


In our organization, most leaders have held some form of environmental health and safety (EH&S) role during their development process within the company. Leaders experience safety at the grassroots level and this is viewed as an important accomplishment. Leadership is not only about the ability to produce product (output), it’s also about doing so safely. Our leaders recognize that their performance is measured by safety and their career and future development within the organization is impacted by their ability to drive safety centric to the working environment. 

Tools that help
We are a science-based organization and our approach to safety performance is no exception. There are a number of programs we use to monitor performance. Programs include behavioral based performance (BBP), near miss/unsafe condition reporting, active participation in self-assessments, housekeeping inspections, safety meetings, and shift meetings. The ability to recognize and control hazards is taught using the continuous hazard analysis technique (CHAT). A written card is used to educate, and employee engagement with active discussion ensures knowledge sharing and an effective control strategy is utilized. This technique is applied on an instance-by-instance basis, to every micro-task performed.

For example, if a person walks up a staircase to get a filter, all the hazards associated with this task should be considered. Where will I stand when I open the door? Will I use the handrail? Can I carry the filter down the stairs and still be able to hold the handrail? Even thinking about fully picking up one’s foot to prevent tripping “up” the stairs is part of the process of doing work. Many times, we’re only focused on the hazards of changing the filter and overlook sub-tasks that we believe are without risk. This is a self-imposed hazard assessment and control strategy. We expect it to be utilized by everyone on site including contractors and contingent staff workers. At first it may seem awkward, but it is a valuable way to approach work with a “safety first” mentality that can keep you out of harm’s way and in a better position to respond to unplanned and changing conditions. 

We also encourage dialogue, proactive intervention, and total engagement. We use these systems and methods to track each worker’s participation and engagement in safety measures. It gives us a window into what’s going on with each worker — are they rowing the boat or asking someone else to carry them along? And of course, we constantly update safety procedures to make sure they’re accurate so the next person doing that task won’t be at risk of failure.

While one can’t “profile” the unsafe worker, you can analyze previous events to understand causes and look for trends which have contributed to folks getting hurt in the past. This approach enables you to make sure you’re doing the right thing to close the gaps in the areas of behavioral choice, equipment used, and management systems that influence the person affected.

If the data suggests that it’s an individual versus the culture, then it is an opportunity to coach and mentor that worker to make better decisions. The safety systems you have in place must be robust enough to accommodate people who are not as safety conscious as they might be. An important part of these systems is intervention by peers and work groups to help certain individuals make better decisions. 

To influence behavior and ensure systems are working properly, we also encourage our leaders to get out in the field with their work groups. Our tracking systems have shown that when leaders are visibly “operating” in a safe manner, they get great response from those reporting up to them and that when leaders are not spending as much time in the field, it affects the overall safety performance. Leadership engagement is critical to safety performance. One thing to remember is that “leadership” includes anyone in the work group viewed as a leader, not just line management. Leaders need to be seen choosing safe behaviors and reinforcing the right decisions.

The safety culture
It is important to bring all new employees into your company’s safety culture and your approach to performing work.

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