Safety: The 5% Solution?
Here's a thought: Are your safety rules and policies, discipline and training, meeting agendas and walkarounds, investigations and bulletin board material â€” mostly aimed at the five percent of your workers who are "allergic" to safety?
Maybe you're wasting energy and missing the mark with too much of your time spent dealing with violators, repeaters and resisters.
Critics charge OSHA with doing just that. Too much time and too many tax dollars spent threatening, investigating and negotiating with the very small minority of six million U.S. workplaces that don't care about safety.
In this issue of ISHN's E-zine, we take research from a new book, "The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit By Giving Workers What They Want," (Wharton School Publishing, 2005) and raise questions about how safety and health is practiced in the workplace.
THE DULLING EFFECT
So who says only five percent of workers are seriously safety-impaired? Is the number larger, or smaller, in your workplace?
Look at it this way: only five percent of the work population shows up for a new job "allergic to work," says David Sirota, one of the book's authors, along with Louis Mischkind and Michael Irwin Meltzer.
The five percenters don't get what work (or by extension, safety) is about and don't want to learn. They resist. They show up late, leave early, and wander around wasting lots of time. They don't pay attention, they get hurt, others get hurt, and equipment and property is damaged. They never should have been hired in the first place, Sirota says.
So they're managed like a problem child, watched like a hawk and hit with rules and threats of dismissal.
But here's what happens, according to Sirota: In many organizations the behavior of this small group (maybe one in twenty workers) is generalized to just about every worker. So rule books become tomes, warnings are posted, training classes treat employees like children, meetings go on and on about issues irrelevant to most workers, and supervisors always look over shoulders.
And in the eyes of too many employees, safety programs come off as oppressive and wasteful.
That's because about 95 percent of employees begin a new job excited about their work and their organization (and safety, too, by extension), according to Sirota. They're eager to be part of a productive team of co-workers. But after the honeymoon ends â€” usually about six months into the job â€” morale (and safety interest, too, by extension) begins to sag in about nine out of ten companies, according to Sirota's research.
Have you seen safety attitudes follow this arc â€” high initial interest followed by a gradual fade out? Is it because management practices focus too much on problems and not enough on performers? Suggestions go unanswered? Hazards aren't fixed? Meetings meander on and on? Sirota bases his claims on three decades of studying the attitudes of people at work â€” about 2.5 million have been surveyed by his consulting company since 1994 alone.
SAFETY'S LONG REACH
Safety's scope of course should represent much more than a five-percent solution.
Research from "The Enthusiastic Employee" shows how safety work can influence many of the organizational issues that motivate employees. Eighty-five to 90 percent of workers are turned on by just three basic needs, is the premise of "The Enthusiastic Employee." Based on all those surveys, what workers want is universal and timeless, according to the authors:
1) Equity â€” Workers feel entitled to a safe work environment, reasonable pay and job security, and to be treated with respect.
Safety and health play a large role in delivering the kind of fair and just treatment employees seek from work. As the authors write, where loss of limb or life is at stake, the ultimate is expected, the goal is perfection, zero injuries.
And in terms of respect, not taking care of the physical work environment is a sure sign of disrespect, according to the authors. Employees want conditions fit for a human. Not dirty, congested, poorly lit and poorly ventilated.
2) Achievement â€” Workers want to be recognized for their performance. They want feedback on how they're doing. Plenty of opportunities here for safety pros and safety initiatives to contribute positively.
3) Camaraderie â€” Let's not forget we're social animals, the authors remind us. We feel a need to belong and identify â€” and not just with our families, communities, schools and sports teams. Workers want to have warm, interesting and cooperative relations with others in the workplace, according to the book.
Safety of course, through observation and feedback loops, and team-based planning, goal-setting, auditing, problem-solving and training offers many opportunities to develop close-knit, caring relations.
SITTING IN A SILO?
Check your safety and health initiatives and competencies against these three fundamental employee "wants." If your response generally is â€” "No, safety doesn't play a role here; we don't do this here" â€” safety probably sits within its own silo in your organization.
If you see yourself and your programs active in these areas, you've gone way beyond tending to the "five percenters." You're making safety a key contributor to morale and business performance.
But be careful. Some traditional safety staples turn up on the authors' list of things that really don't motivate employees â€” and can be downright discouraging if handled poorly or over-emphasized. These include picnics, banquets and barbecues, suggestion programs, "formal" programs of all sorts, company newsletters, and pep rallies. As the authors write, it's not that employees don't care about these "frills," but they matter far less than meeting those three basic needs.
Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.
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Books from ASSEYou can order these titles and more from the American Society of Safety Engineers Bookstore on ISHN's Web site. Visit â€” http://www.ishn.com/FILES/HTML/ISHN_ASSE_index/
Among the books you'll find:
- "Refresher Guide for the Safety Fundamentals Exam"
- "The Participation Factor," by Dr. E. Scott Geller
- "Safety Training That Delivers"
- "Building a Better Safety and Health Committee"
- "Safety Management - A Human Approach," and "Techniques of Safety Management - A Systems Approach," both by Dan Petersen.
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WE NEED YOU!Are you a safety and health pro or a manufacturer or provider of occupational safety and health products or services who enjoys writing?
Shakespeare need not apply, but ISHN is looking for authors to publish short articles (1,000 words) in our monthly issues.
Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.
If any of these topics interest you â€” or if you have other ideas â€” e-mail editor Dave Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will also consider articles youâ€™ve already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.