As I have been reflecting on the changing world of work and other trends affecting the safety profession, it struck me that we should be all about change. As safety professionals, we change how work is performed so it is safer. We improve the structure of our work environments to reduce the consequences of human error. We help change employees’ views about risk and safety. And we help leaders see safety not as a compliance-based cost center, but as a proactive way to reduce organizational risk, increase productivity and efficiency, and improve sustainability.
But change is hard. We like what we know and often grow uncomfortable and even fearful about what we do not. Faced with impending change, we begin to ponder a series of questions: How will this change affect me? Will I still be successful if this happens? Will this affect my position? Will I have more work? Will this really be better?
By recognizing that resistance to change is human nature, we can use a change management process to help employees accept and even embrace change in the workplace. Too often, we expect those we are asking to change to go directly from recognizing the need for change to implementation. Instead, we need to take time to engage employees from the start, seek their input and ideas, and gain their ongoing support for and participation in what we are doing.
Chapter 6 of our new implementation manual for ANSI/ASSP Z10 focuses on encouraging worker participation, which is Section 5.2 of the standard:
Involving workers in decisions and activities that affect their safety and health encourages them to take action to reduce risk and achieve a safe workplace. Including the expectation of worker participation in policy, process and practice development and modification can create a robust occupational health and safety management system.
Communication is crucial to successfully managing change. We must communicate consistently and frequently with our employees and leaders about the impending change. We must explain why a change is needed, discuss how it will affect each person and describe the outcomes we expect to achieve.
To be most effective in our communications efforts, we must enlist the influencers within our organizations and involve them from the start. When they are part of the process and help execute the change, they are more likely to reinforce key messages than they are to encourage resistance.
It is easy to think that we need to take these steps only when implementing a major change, such as adding a new line to a plant or adopting a lean manufacturing process. But we should also view our efforts to change the safety climate within our organizations as a major change and follow these same steps.
For example, suppose you want to increase use of lockout/tagout procedures. Which influencers in your organization can help you uncover why people do not follow the procedure? What ideas do employees have for improving the process and increasing acceptance of the change? What types of communication can help change beliefs related to the process?
As our Z10 implementation manual further advises:
Management can also provide workers with the opportunity to contribute to the performance of activities they control. This, in turn, can influence worker buy-in and participation with process, work flow, procedural and other changes that may result. Worker engagement in this manner contributes to improved job satisfaction, desired organizational culture and injury minimization.
When you are presented with change this year, take some time to question how you are responding. Consider what input you can provide to answer questions that help you support the change.
As you implement changes to make your workplace safer, be sure your safety management system involves workers from the beginning. You will build trust and create an engaged workforce that will help you achieve better results.