Is your organization actively caring?

All levels must go to great lengths to ensure the well-being, safety of others

Is your organization actively caring?
Dave Fennell

Do you care about safety? How could you possibly answer anything but “Of course I do!”? The fact that you are reading an article in COS is a good indication that you care enough to continue to learn more about safety. Some of you may even be in roles where you are trying to get others to care about safety as much as you do. That is a good start, but to have a strong safety culture, we must go beyond just having individuals who care and move toward a culture of caring through all levels in our organization. A strong safety culture will also need a level of caring beyond a simple, passive concern and more toward actively demonstrating care for others.

Scott Geller, world-renowned health and safety researcher, began using the phrase “actively caring” in 1991 to describe this culture in organizations, and to demonstrate that effective behavioural approaches to safety must be built on this foundation. Caring about safety was a good start but “actively caring” meant going above and beyond what is required or mandated and going to great lengths to ensure the well-being and safety of others in the workplace. It means workers are considerate for the safety of their peers and will step up to identify hazards and substandard conditions that could cause harm to them. It also means workers will have the courage to approach their peers and intervene if they see them putting themselves in danger because of an at-risk behaviour.

Actively caring gets its start from individuals who are compassionate, considerate and kind. These are inherent traits in some individuals, but others may need help in developing these attributes. Geller identified the characteristics of work groups that had a penchant for caring. He found that they believed they could make a difference on safety, they felt they had a degree of control over their actions and they worked cohesively. These attributes can be taught, but we need to look for ways of developing these attributes in our work groups using practical and simple approaches. Yes, we could send everyone away on training and to workshops to develop these traits, but the reality is we may have to grow this culture within the workplace. 

Actively caring can start with continually looking for hazards and at-risk conditions. Encourage the use of hazard identification tools and demonstrate how each hazard that has been corrected may have prevented an incident. The pre-job planning processes, such as a job safety analysis (JSA) and field level hazard assessment (FLHA), contribute to the control and cohesive aspects of a caring culture. Behaviour observations, last minute risk assessments (LMRA) and approaching others and intervening are excellent ways of making a difference on safety and building those caring traits.

Actively caring is not just a front-line worker responsibility. Management must also demonstrate they care for the well-being of their workers. Management can’t get people to care about their work and about each other until they show that they care about them. In the absence of continuous contact with workers, management will need an additional set of tactics to demonstrate that they care. According to Aubrey Daniels, often referred to as the father of performance management, the “A” words can be used as the management touchstone in an actively caring workplace:

• Actively listening

• Appreciation

• Acknowledge safety accomplishments

• Asking questions about the work

• Attending to safety issues.

Caring senior managers will be responsive to the safety needs in the workplace, such as ensuring the workers have access to the best personal protective equipment. They ask about the well-being of an injured worker and ensure the worker gets the best treatment and care. They say “Thank you” when workers put extra effort into making the workplace safer and they acknowledge the workers who have been actively caring for their peers. They reinforce the importance of workers looking out for each other in the workplace, encouraging and empowering people to intervene on behalf of others when faced with a potential at-risk situation. They provide training to their people on how to be more effective at intervention and encourage workers to be receptive and say “Thanks” when someone has intervened on them.

You can’t buy “actively caring” off a shelf. It cannot be purchased like a mask that is worn to portray an outward image. It must be sincere and heartfelt, and must come from individuals in the organization at all levels. It is front-line workers looking out for each other and intervening when they see others putting themselves at risk. It is supervisors encouraging everyone to approach others and intervene if they see something unsafe and making sure the workers have the resources needed to work safely. It is the actions of senior management visibly and actively caring about the people in their organization and fostering a culture that encourages the compassion and courage to actively care about others.