Top Training Challenges: How do I get employees to buy-in to our safety program?
The following is an excerpt from our on demand webcast, Troubleshoot Your Training—Live!, hosted by Chief Safety Officer Jill James and Dr. Todd Loushine.
Dr. Todd Loushine:
Well, similar to what we had said about management buy-in is that we need to ... As a safety professional, we have to be able to view safety from the workers' perspective and in their language. One of the first principle that I teach my students is that safety is an attribute of work. We have to understand how work is being done, what the work expectations are prior to really instilling our understanding how safety affects it. So work is primary, safety is secondary. Because if we take safety primary and it starts affecting a worker's ability to be successful in their job, they're going to forget about safety. They're not going to do it. I know there was a lot of questions on that, "How do we get workers committed? How do we get workers to understand the value of safety?"
Well, as a safety professional, we have to understand their work first and then institute safety from there and by developing these relationships with workers. I also want to bring in the term supervisors. What I mean by a supervisor is a frontline supervisor, typically someone who was a high performing worker who was promoted. I still view them as the frontline in workers because they may not be putting their hands on the tools and assembling but they're right there with the workers day in and day out. So I mean, both Dan Peterson and Peter Drucker, both giants in our field and in management field have stated the importance of the supervisor in change management and improving the safety.
So you got to get out. You got to engage the workers and the supervisors to really understand their work, understand their concerns because they don't like change and they don't like not knowing something. Unfortunately, if anybody here is on this line, you worked for a company before in which some big decisions, some big change was coming, you were not involved with it and were you stressed out that night or that week not knowing how it would affect your job or if you still have a job? So safety can be the same ways, that workers, if for a long time they've been at a place where safety has just been thrown at them that, "Oh hey, we've got hand injuries. Now you're all going to wear these uncomfortable hot gloves that's required." "Well, I can't get my job done."
Or, okay, people are getting ... Falling too much or tying everybody off but there's nowhere to tie up to so how do I get my job done. We have to involve the workers, we have to build safety around the work and the work expectations. Workers also don't want additional tasks and responsibilities. They've got enough on their mind. They were hired to do a job and now you're asking me to do these other things or put on these other things to get the job done that make it difficult for me to meet the demands or the product requirements? No, I'm not going to do it when you're not looking at me. So we got to think of these things ahead of time. Jill, do you want to add anything?
Yeah, absolutely. We mentioned this before but sometimes it's important to actually do the work with the employee so that we don't look like the person that just came out of the office that doesn't understand anything they do. I think about the number of times that I've done that in my career and specifically one of my favorite examples when I worked in the poultry industry myself was getting in the turkey barn with all these toms so tipping over these very large birds that are as high as your waist was a huge ergonomic risk.
We had all kinds of injuries with that but I needed to physically do that job so I could feel what that felt like and feel the stresses that their body had and then able to get into conversation with those employees about, "Okay, you're doing this eight hours a day hundreds of times. You've certainly maybe thought, 'Could there be a better way?" And they give you ideas. I also brought in an ergonomist to help with that as well. But doing those jobs builds that credibility that I'm here for you and I understand your job. Something else that Todd mentioned was if you're implementing a system but you haven't vetted it out with the employee, you told them they had to wear safety glasses but you didn't take into account the respirator they're wearing is fogging up the safety glasses and they can't see. Employees are going to be finding workarounds for things.
One of the things when I'm doing a safety audit that I make a priority is I'm watching for tools that aren't tools. When you're going through your safety audits and near a machine, look for that piece of metal rod that's got some duct tape on it that's curled up on one end or a piece of wood that doesn't look like it's a tool and it's laying on top of a machine. I guarantee you'll find them. Then ask the employees, "What is this for?" They'll say, "Well, we have to put this guard on this thing but we still had to oil the machine and so I use this thing to jam it in this hole so that when it gets stuck, I can do this."
Their work was impeded by maybe something that we thought was a really great idea in safety but we didn't take time to talk with the employees about what the day to day function of their equipment or work is or to discover that something has been broken for a really long time and nobody talked about it because employees are just trying to get their job done and they didn't know the mechanism for reporting something that was broken to get it fixed.