Honored this past week to be invited to speak and share best practices at a European Union OSHA event on effective safety communications and behavior change. It’s always nice to have your work recognized for effectiveness and innovation and to share or collaborate with like-minded people.
In the early days of workplace safety, assessing risk, engineering controls, raising awareness and enforcing compliance made great gains on injury incidence and severity. However, in many industries, while there are still opportunities to utilize technology and continue to implement job controls, injury rate reductions appear to be plateauing, and in some industries, rates are beginning to creep up again. We also continually hear concerns from safety managers about the “frustrating ones”… wondering how they can make a difference on what appears to be silly mistakes and behavioral errors.
As safety has become such an expected and routine element of the modern workplace, the risk of desensitization and “going through the motions” has become an increasing issue. In addition, we face an aging workforce and a younger generation who is, in general, in poorer physical health than the previous generation. That is, the physical capacity of our workforce and resilience to injury is decreased, while we also face new challenges of a more stressed, chronically under-rested and less attentive population.
The structure of workplace health and safety initiatives has never been more critical. While safety has done incredibly well in terms of embedding itself in company culture, where it potentially could still be improved is in the type and structure of communications at those regular touchpoints. Many safety models have a range of elements – from toolbox talks, to safety shares, tips of the day, audits & observations, annual training revisions and so on – the problem is that many of these elements are independent in nature, or they are campaign based, meaning that they push a singular focus for a short period before switching to a new focus at the expense of reinforcing the previous one. To be stronger from an educational perspective, and to have a greater impact on employee behavior, the structure of these programs and communications could be improved to be more consistent, provide a more tangible value proposition for employees to change (that is, be more purpose-driven rather than mainly warnings or reminders of rules).
I think there are incredible opportunities for safety to broaden their perspective and consider more comprehensive initiatives that help address not only work task behaviors and ergonomics, but also improved resilience to injury through promoting meaningful maintenance of physical capacity and meaningful education and mitigation of poor engagement, focus, fatigue, and mental health concerns. Workers on auto-pilot will inevitably cause errors. Workers who come to work in poor physical and mental condition are not only under-productive, but they are at risk. More effective integration or safety and broader elements of health also provide more personal benefit to employees – bridging that gap between personal and professional gain – which are likely to improve their perception of, and engagement in the organization.
I was particularly buoyed by a presentation from a multi-national software company, who is thinking of using worker happiness ratings as a leading indicator of risk. It’s one simple example of how stepping back and thinking beyond traditional engineering, PPE, risk assessments and audits could open the door to more effective interventions.
If you’d like to learn more about HBD’s award-winning and industry-leading approaches to health and safety behavior change, including programs that achieve an average of 30-60% reductions in MSK injury, hit the “contact” link and send us a note.