PSYCHOLOGY OF SAFETY: Put a positive spin on safety
The most productive and healthy personality state is â€œsuccess seeker,â€ according to systematic research and basic intuition. With their high expectancy for success and low fear of failure, success seekers respond to setbacks with optimistic persistence, self-assurance and a sense of personal control.
Itâ€™s obvious safety pros need to find ways to facilitate success-seeking outlooks. The more safety success seekers in your organization, the greater the probability of achieving and maintaining an injury-free workplace.
In this article, letâ€™s consider ways to increase the number of safety success seekers in a work group.
All about lossTraditional safety programs emphasize failure avoidance over positive achievements:
No wonder a failure-avoiding state is often the prominent motivation of workplace safety. And if failures (or injuries) keep occurring in spite of peopleâ€™s best efforts to avoid them, a mindset of â€œfailure acceptanceâ€ can develop. Of course, this apathetic and helpless perspective stifles participation in any safety-improvement effort.
Achievement-based accountabilityThe obvious antidote is to focus on safety achievement rather than injury avoidance. Easier said than done, I admit. With quality production, positive consequences are inherent with ongoing work activities. People can usually see evidence of achievement when contributing to the production of a quality commodity or service. Plus, the scoring system for the productivity side of an organization is typically given in achievement terms. Not so for safety.
The only way to put an achievement spin on safety is to define proactive things to do for injury prevention, and then hold people accountable for achieving them. An achievement-based accountability system should put more focus on positive consequences for accomplishment, from interpersonal recognition to group celebrations. Plus, your safety scoring system should be based on proactive measures â€” activities accomplished to prevent injury.
Imagine the alternativesImagine a safety meeting that begins with a presentation of various process accomplishments for injury prevention. You might discuss:
- The number of environmental hazards removed;
- â€œNear-missâ€ reports reviewed;
- Safety audits completed;
- Interpersonal observation and feedback sessions conducted;
- Safety suggestions received and implemented; and,
- Percentage of safe behaviors observed per work team.
Moreover, imagine the meeting facilitator asking participants to state publicly what they have done for safety since the last meeting. Imagine that work teams are not ranked according to negative-based injury records, but are recognized for what they do to prevent personal injury. And imagine the safety portion of a performance appraisal including a checklist of safety accomplishments rather than total recordable injury rate.
With these transitions from traditional safety, itâ€™s not difficult to imagine cultivating an achievement mindset toward safety â€” and increasing the number of â€œsafety success seekers.â€
SIDEBAR 1: Who are you?Those four states introduced last month were derived from a two-dimensional matrix that categorized people according to whether they work to succeed or avoid failure in a particular situation.
When we work primarily to achieve success, we are 1) â€œsuccess seekers,â€ as opposed to 2) â€œfailure avoidersâ€ who are motivated by fear of failure. As 3) â€œoverstriversâ€ we are driven to avoid failure by working in overdrive to succeed. In this state, we are not â€œhappy campersâ€ but experience skepticism, low emotional control, high anxiety, and unstable self-esteem. The 4) â€œfailure accepter,â€ is a person who expects failure regardless of personal effort and is resigned to apathy or indifference.
Do you know people who are failure avoiders or failure accepters with regard to workplace safety? How would you classify yourself? Does your classification vary according to the environmental context or the individuals on your work team? Are there more safety success seekers in situations where there is more positive participation for safety?
SIDEBAR 2: Wouldnâ€™t it be nice?Midway through my safety leadership presentation for NASA (at the Langley Air Force Base) my Powerpoint screen went blank. The audience was silent as I tried to solve the problem. As a computer technician reached the front of the room, I noticed the power cord from my laptop was not plugged in. The battery could support only the first 45 minutes of my talk.
When I plugged in the cord, the slide show started up at the very point it had stopped. The audience clapped enthusiastically. I couldnâ€™t help but thank everyone for recognizing my success at solving a problem. I also thanked them for not criticizing or complaining when the screen went blank. Then I acknowledged the key point of this article. Wouldnâ€™t it be nice if in safety we gave more attention to solving safety problems than to reacting negatively after an injury occurs? If we did, weâ€™d increase the number of safety success seekers in our organization and come closer to achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace.