In Safety Briefing No 1, we discussed some fears (self-imposed pressure) that lead people to unsafe behaviours.
This week, we will discuss ways for helping ourselves and others overcome the fear factor and develop more courage for safety. Look out for our next Safety briefing where we will discuss more suggestions.
Communicate Clearly to Raise Awareness of Unsafe Behaviour
- In workshops and meetings, make the fear factor explicit
Bring into the open that people get hurt because of fear. Explain how everyone from the most junior employee to the most senior manager experiences these fears in varying degrees. Let people express the fact that they’re afraid sometimes when they follow the rules because of what others will think of them or do to them. The very act of making the fear explicit and airing it is part of the solution.
- Explain to people that at least 80% of their fear is unjustified
We have been conditioned from an early age to fear people’s reactions to our innocent mistakes. In the olden days for some of us, our parents or teachers gave us a smack when we made a mistake. This conditioning often continues into adulthood. In discussions, get people to reflect on how far we’ve come in the workplace and how rare it is that people get fired merely for expressing views strongly or making silly mistakes. With conditioned fear you just have to believe it’s unjustified and “sail through it”. Unless you do this you’ll always be affected by your own unjustified fear and may be tempted to work unsafely.
- Encourage people to persist and take things further
What should people do when their fear is justified? What if your current supervisor holds is it against you? How should you react if your mates will mock you or, even worse, ostracise you if you insist on working to safety rules? There is a three-part solution here. It is difficult to help people overcome this fear of upsetting others.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Explain to people the terrible decision they’re making. Ask people, “Are you really going to endanger your health, life and income because of unacceptable attitudes of others?” Don’t try and sell this too hard – all you can do is sow the seed and show that giving into the fear could have very bad consequences.
- Encourage people to persist in a calm, non-insulting way. If someone is being pressured by their supervisor to do something they think is unsafe and the supervisor is not listening to objections, I advise saying something like this. “We really want to get this job done tonight but I’m very worried we might hurt someone because etc etc etc. Let’s do the risk assessment once more to make sure we’ve covered everything that could hurt us.” The secret is not to argue about perceptions of safety – simply suggest using the risk assessment tool. Who would refuse such a reasonable and sensible request?
- If the supervisor does not accept the need for another risk assessment, encourage people to get others involved. Depending on circumstances, it could be the safety representative, the HSE adviser or a more senior manager. As you know, people are very reluctant to “leapfrog” their supervisor or manager. In addition, from an early age, we are taught that “telling tails” makes us a bad person – a snitch. All you can do is explain to people that times have changed and your worksite/company welcomes people who “tell tales” for safety. I know this last suggestion sounds totally naïve – but what else is there?
- Accept that the fear factor is higher and more influential than you think. Keep remembering the hindering effects of fear. When introducing a new procedure, rule or initiative, think about where the fear could creep in and then discuss this with people – make it explicit. Remember that just because you are the boss, people are afraid of you. They will do things to keep on your right side.
As always your feedback is very welcome. Any topics you’d like covered in future Safety Briefings?