PSYCHOLOGY OF SAFETY: Integrating safety into every routine

February 28, 2003
/ Print / Reprints /
/ Text Size+
People want to work safely all the time when they believe their jobs are important and that safety is a value integral to competent performance. You can improve job competence by helping people make safe work practices and hazard elimination integral to their everyday work routines.

But what does it mean to make something integral?

"Integral" is defined in my American Heritage Dictionary as "essential or necessary for completeness." Let's explore this meaning and its connection to occupational safety and health. Perhaps this will inspire new ways of teaching safety and achieving an injury-free workplace. First, let's review the difference between a priority and a value.

Priority versus value

Years ago in the October 1991 issue of ISHN, I explained the difference between a "priority" and a "value" by asking readers to reflect on how they get ready for work in the morning. After getting out of bed we usually follow a regular routine before leaving the house. Many of these "get-ready" behaviors are considered priorities - they are important, but not always essential.

Imagine getting up late. Do you shift your priorities? You might skip your stretching or exercise routine, a shower, or even breakfast. But one set of behaviors will never get compromised, because they reflect a value rather than a priority. Yes, I'm talking about getting dressed. As young children we are taught to always "cover up" before going out. That's a value.

Value-based behaviors are not "add-ons," "after thoughts" or even part of a "proactive program." Rather, they are activities incorporated naturally into a task and deemed indispensable for effectiveness. In a word, these behaviors are "integral."

How can we help people relate to the real meaning of "integral?" Let's consider how we develop and maintain interpersonal relationships.

An integral relationship

Most people experience the excitement of developing a new personal relationship. Some of these are considered critical additions to one's life - a gift that adds substantial happiness and a sense of personal fulfillment. You adjust your daily routine to make this new relationship a priority in your life. But we don't always make a relationship integral.

Many circumstances can get in the way: environmental and time constraints, previous and current relationships, and communication barriers. Often family relationships are not integral, leading to conflict, turmoil, and disparaging separations.

Some children are viewed as an addition to a family, rather than an integral component, for example. Babysitters are hired, day-care deliveries made, and meal times adjusted to handle an extra mouth to feed. Some quality time might be spent with children, but what are the parents' perceptions?

Do they look forward to and plan for their limited quality time with children (and with each other)? Or, is their day so occupied with job requirements that time with family is unanticipated and merely an "add-on" to a busy day?

Interpersonal relationships improve and persevere to the extent they become integral to your everyday existence. Opportunities for interpersonal communication, comfort, and intimacy are perceived as integral - more than an extra "gift" or "positive reinforcer." Your thoughts, fantasies, and even communication with others support and envision opportunities to build and enjoy a relationship. This happens in spite of a hectic schedule that limits occasions for relationship-building and one-on-one appreciation.

Relevance to safety

Let's apply this discussion to safety. In an injury-free workplace, safety is incorporated into every aspect of a person's workday. When safety is truly a value, it is not an extra responsibility or a supplementary set of requirements.

Making safety a value is as challenging as cultivating the best kind of relationship. It's not easy to do. But the extensive time and effort needed to make this happen are investments that reap maximum long-term benefits. And the more you procrastinate in making relevant behaviors integral - to safety or to relationships - the more difficult it can be to achieve the best. Some delays lead to barriers that are extremely formidable to overcome.

Matter of balance

It's not unusual for personal relationships to be out of balance. One person contributes more than the other. Why? One views the relationship as "integral" while the other considers it an "add-on." This imbalance often fosters emotional upheaval, and frequently ends with someone getting hurt.

Can you see the connection to safety? How often do safety leaders experience this imbalance when attempting to reduce the possibility of personal injury? Actually, safety is often perceived as an interpersonal confrontation: one person considers safety as integral to the job, the other views it as unnecessary. Many who act as if safety is only an extra requirement get lucky and dodge injury, but not everyone. Some get hurt because they don't perceive safety as a value integral to every task of the competent worker.

I hope you'll use your own personal example to teach the concept of "integral" and illustrate its critical role in making safety a "value." If genuine, your relationship example will undoubtedly portray how challenging it is to reach this level of safety excellence. But your example can also show how rewarding "integral" can be.


Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to ISHN.

Recent Articles by Scott Geller

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

Scenes from the World of Safety

Sights, signs & symbols from the National Safety Congress & Expo held in San Diego, CA, September 15-18

11/4/14 2:00 pm EST

Eye Injuries: You rarely see them coming. Practical Solutions for reducing injuries to the eye.

The 3M Eye Injury Reduction webinar will provide an examination of how to help solve eye injuries in the workplace. This issue continues to challenge virtually every industry, and the solution is often times multifaceted. 3M will share some new tools and approaches to help you in solving this issue.

ISHN Magazine


2015 January

Check out ISHN's first issue of 2015, which features articles about hearing protection as well as the State of the EHS Nation 2015 Survey.

Table Of Contents Subscribe


M:\General Shared\__AEC Store Katie Z\AEC Store\Images\ISHN\safetyfourth.jpg
Safety Engineering, 4th Edition

A practical, solutions-driven reference, Safety Engineering, 4th edition, has been completely revised and updated to reflect many of today’s issues in safety.

More Products

For Distributors Only - January 2015



For Distributors Only is ISHN's niche brand standard-sized magazine supplement aimed at an audience of 2,000 U.S. distributors that sell safety products. Circulation only goes to distributors. 



Facebook logo Twitter YouTubeLinkedIn Google + icon

ishn infographics

2012 US workplace deathsCheck out ISHN's new Infographic page! Learn more about worker safety through these interactive images. CLICK HERE to view the page.