Adventures of making safety personal

What we talk about are peoples’ adventures and misadventures in safety. Yet, what we are actually discussing are the real reasons that people need to do what they do safely.

Who we are and what is important to us
To start the process, we introduce ourselves to all the participants and discuss our family connections by telling the group about the important people in our lives. How many children we have, if our parents are still in our lives and how many siblings we have are some of the common introductions.

No one is asked to reveal anything more about themselves than they feel comfortable with. We often include details about the important pets in our lives, since in most homes they are a very large part of the family.

Then we discuss what we do in our leisure time and how much we enjoy those things in our lives. Typical hobbies include outdoor and sports activities, musical and other creative pursuits like painting, carpentry and crafts.

Our job and people we work with
The discussion then moves to what we do for a living and why we got into the profession we’re in. We often describe what we like and don’t like about our work. What happens next is where the rubber hits the road in this exercise.

Within small groups, we discuss some of the risks we take and have taken and what was the reward to us personally. Common examples are: speeding while driving, not wearing personal protective equipment, working at heights without fall protection, using the wrong tool or equipment for a job.

Mature reasons to work safely
As company safety cultures develop and mature, the people in those cultures realize that we are not doing safety for the government, although the safety solutions that are used need to comply as a minimum to the applicable legislated standards. Our maturity is really based on the realization that doing our work safely pays us back through continued enjoyment of our health and the important people and things in our lives.

We then no longer text message while driving, not because some politician made it illegal, but because we realize that driving safely gets us home to our family. The act of doing our work safely is not done for our employer because it’s a “rule”. Our work is done safely so that we get to see our daughter or son excel at their sport, or we get to simply hang out with our friends.

Harmful energies and the risks we take
At this point in the session we start to talk about the energies that are involved in our work. Electrical, mechanical, chemical, biological, gravitational, kinetic are all common energies we’re exposed to as we do a variety of occupations.

If we define being “safe” as not taking unnecessary risks, then not protecting ourselves against the energies we face at work should be deemed as “unsafe”. That being the case, examining what we do to protect ourselves from these energies can then become a very personal behavioural commitment.

For example, working at a height without fall protection is unnecessary since there are many ways available to us not to do that. If we make it a personal commitment not to EVER work at a height without proper protection of a guardrail or fall arrest harness, then we have done something significant to ensure our personal safety.

At this point in the discussion most people can describe a situation where they have exposed themselves to one or more of these energies unnecessarily while they did their work. This risk taking is getting personal.

What are we really getting for the risks we are taking?
Typically, people describe that the only real payback for working unsafely and taking risks when they really don’t have to is that they saved a bit of time or for the period of the job, they are “more comfortable.” When we discuss the cost benefit ratio of what we’re risking (family, health, friends and leisure time activities) for these minor gains, it’s usually what I affectionately call an “Aha!” moment. Most soon realize that the true reasons for being safe are much bigger than the minor paybacks for being unsafe.

Start — Stop — Continue
To be successfully safe we all need to make our behaviours habitual. Safety becomes then a natural process of doing our work. When we think about the behaviours we need to get through our work days without encountering injuries and health damaging events we see that it’s the behaviours we choose personally that will help us accomplish that.

For example, wearing seatbelts is a behaviour that we aren’t instinctively born with. We need to learn the behaviour of putting our seatbelts on before we drive. Repetitions and positive reinforcement through experiential learning helps to make this behaviour one that becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit it makes up a part of how we do the act of driving.

At this final point in the discussion we can ask ourselves what it is in our lives that we need to STOP doing to make it home safely. Just as importantly there are some things that we realize that we should START doing to make ourselves safer. Finally, we realize that many of the things we do already are actually increasing the chances of us safely getting home after our day at work and we should CONTINUE to do those things.

There you have it, an important process every workplace should go through to assist people in thinking about and changing unsafe behaviours. Not for the government, not for the company, but for the real people we’re working for — those who are waiting for us at home!

Alan D. Quilley is the president of Safety Results Ltd., an OHS consulting company in Sherwood Park, Alta. You may contact him at [email protected]