What is keeping you from speaking up? Phillip Ragain of the RAD Group asked that very question Monday at Safety 2019. He said a surprising number of forces inhibit us when we should speak up to stop an unsafe activity.

Ragain discussed the various factors that suppress safety interventions and detailed the steps for overcoming these inhibitors.

He said silence is how many people are wired to respond to uncomfortable situations. Many companies have “stop work authority,” he said, but it only addresses one of the inhibitors: fear of formal punishment for insubordination or slowing productivity. “What we notice, think about and ultimately decide to do is strongly influenced by our immediate context,” Ragain said. Most people believe that intervening is a fundamental, personal responsibility, but when presented with an opportunity to intervene, subtle factors in the work context keep people silent, he said.

Inhibiting forces include:

  • Production Pressure – Deadlines and the pressure to produce can change the way we see the world.
  • The Unit Bias – We are inclined to finish the task at hand before moving on to something else.
  • Deference to authority – We are less likely to speak up to and around authority figures.
  • The Bystander Effect – The more people there are, the less likely we are to speak up.

Ragain said, “We expect that people will become defensive, want to avoid the stress of that social tension and then rationalize our inaction by saying ‘he is an experienced employee so he knows the risk he’s taking’,”

He said rewiring for intervention involves simply being aware of the “inhibiting forces” to help us overcome them.