In the seemingly never-ending search for success, there are so many elements that comprise an effective and efficient safety program. How can management get the most out of their employees so that they not only look out for their own safety, but also the safety of others?
Fortunately, E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., has some tips. In a peer-reviewed article titled “The Communication Dynamic for OSH,” Geller shares “Seven Cs for Safety Success” and explains how each, when utilized effectively, can create a culture where employees actively look out for each other’s well-being and strive for continuous safety improvement.
Solving a problem, whether in OSH or any other profession requires effective communication. Communication helps develop relationships, learn what employees hope to achieve, recognize opportunities for improvement or identify the actions needed to accomplish organizational goals.
“Most, if not all, attempts to improve workplace safety include interpersonal communication,” says Geller. “Indeed, the success of any intervention involving people is dependent on appropriate communication.”
Open and honest communications between safety professionals and workers, and between workers themselves can create a culture where individuals across the organization are actively caring for each other toward the greater good of ensuring that everyone gets home safely.
Seeing a problem takes mere observation. Doing something about it requires courage. It is the responsibility of workers and safety professionals alike that to act on behalf of protecting worker safety when they see something that could cause harm to another person.
“Most people care, but too often people fail to act on their caring,” says Geller. “They seemingly lack the courage to take action for the prevention of potential harm to another person.”
Geller notes that while individuals with greater competence and commitment than others in a given situation are more likely to demonstrate courage, someone’s propensity to show courage in certain circumstances is increased whenever relevant commitment or competence is augmented.
Commitment to one’s organization reflects a worker’s motivation to perform and an understanding of the consequences of their behavior. When a worker takes a pledge or signs a petition, they are in essence making a promise to their employer that they will act in the manner consistent with organizational expectations. To stay true to that commitment, workers will then behave in that way.
“Commitment develops from recognizing the positive consequences gained and the negative consequences avoided when applying one’s skills,” Geller explains. “When workers perform tasks for certain and positive consequences, they avoid impulsive behavior and work toward long term-goals.”
Geller notes that it is important for the presenter of a commitment strategy to realize the influence of personal choice and make statements that allow workers to believe the commitment is not coerced and is their decision. Furthermore, it helps to make the commitment in public.
“A behavior-based commitment is most effective (or influential) when it is public, effortful and perceived as voluntary or not coerced,” he says. “Thus, it is more beneficial to have employees make a public rather than private commitment to perform a certain safe behavior.”
As noted, personal choice is a key component in facilitating a culture where employees look out for each other and act in the best interest of safety. Employers should do everything they can to facilitate self-accountability and self-motivation.
“In this context, choice (or autonomy) is the condition or quality of being self-governing or having personal control, a person-state or mind-set related to one’s propensity to actively care for the safety, health and well-being of others,” says Geller. “Autonomous behavior is self-initiated, self-endorsed and authentic. It reflects one’s true value and intentions.”
Everyone wants to feel competent in the work they do. When workers perceive that they can perform their tasks and fulfill their responsibilities, they are more motivated to do the right thing in terms of safety, even when no one is watching.
Geller explains that behavior that increases feelings of competence is self-directed and does not need extrinsic motivation to keep it going. Therefore, it is important for workers to devote themselves to tasks they see as worthwhile, and for management to allow them to teach those skills to others, thereby strengthening the employees’ feeling of competence, commitment and success. When workers feel competent in their abilities, their self-motivation is more likely to continue.
Along with the steps outlined, creating a sense of community among the workforce is crucial to developing a culture where workers are concerned for each other’s safety and will take steps to ensure that incidents don’t occur. When workers feel connected to their colleagues and that they are a part of something greater than themselves, it can help break down barriers.
“Community is an actively caring for people mind-set for humankind in general,” says Geller. “An interconnectedness that transcends political differences and prejudices, and profoundly respects and appreciates diversity.”
Being compassionate to the well-being of your coworkers requires you to see things from their point of view. When we see things from someone else’s perspective, we understand where they are coming from and can collaborate toward a positive solution.
Geller explains that sincere understanding and appreciation of someone else’s circumstances can lead to optimal behavior in terms of employees actively caring for people. Furthermore, when individuals at all levels of the organization show more empathy and compassion in conversations, it has a greater impact on improving attitude and behavior, he notes.
“Whether the topic is empathic listening, empathic leadership or empathic performance appraisals and corrective action, the focus is on the other person’s needs, feelings or perceptions,” Geller explains. “Starting with this viewpoint makes every other management strategy more effective.”
Read the complete version of “The Communication Dynamic for OSH,” originally published in the September 2018 issue of Professional Safety. Want to receive a monthly subscription to Professional Safety, ASSP’s top-ranked benefit? Become an ASSP member.
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Emotional Intelligence: Assessing its Importance in Safety Leadership
Audience Analysis: Taking Employees from Awareness to Understanding
Relationship-Based Safety: Moving Beyond Culture & Behavior