Start Your Own Safety Epidemic
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START YOUR OWN SAFETY EPIDEMIC
We've seen a wave of violence in the workplace this summer:
. . . A 25-year-old worker on probation at Modine Manufacturing Corp. in Missouri brings a .40-caliber handgun to work on July 2, kills three people and injures five before taking his own life.
. . . Six days later, a 48-year-old Lockheed Martin employee storms out of a sensitivity training class, grabs a shotgun and semiautomatic from his pickup and goes on a rampage, killing five employees and wounding nine before fatally shooting himself in the chest.
. . . A man walks into his Century 21 real estate office in San Antonio on July 23 and shoots three women, killing two and critically wounding the third; hours later he kills himself on the side of an interstate.
. . . In Delaware on August 9, a 42-year-old man shoots a former supervisor through the window of her home, injuring her, then knocks on the door of his former boss's house and fatally blasts him in the neck with a shotgun in front of the man's 15-year-old daughter. The murderer commits suicide on a golf course.
. . . And just this week, an employee at an Ohio auto parts factory kills a payroll clerk, apparently over disputed vacation time, and wounds two other co-workers before killing himself.
This is not rational behavior, of course. But is it contagious? Are we seeing unconscious imitations of publicized incidents?
It wouldn't be the first time. In the national bestseller, "The Tipping Point," (Little, Brown and Co., 2000) author Malcolm Gladwell cites studies showing how suicide cases that received wide publicity had the effect of increasing, or tipping, the rate of suicides nationwide. Marilyn Monroe's death temporarily spiked the national rate by 12 percent.
School shootings are another example. Gladwell points out that in the 22 months following the Columbine High massacre in April, 1999, 19 incidents of school violence occurred across the U.S., with ten fortunately foiled before anyone was hurt. But each unfolded along the lines of the Columbine script.
Celebrity suicides, shootings at work, shootings at school - each provide detailed "problem-solving" instructions to certain people caught in certain circumstances, according to Gladwell. The script gives them permission to engage in deviant acts, responding to personal demons.
And then we're hit with a wave of contagious behavior. An emotional epidemic.
In this edition of ISHN's e-newsletter, we take concepts from "The Tipping Point" to show how you can deliberately start and control a positive emotional epidemic - centered on safe attitudes and behaviors.
Thanks go to Marv Broman, the director of corporate safety and health for Valmont Industries, Inc., Valley, Neb. Marv stopped by ISHN's booth at the American Society of Safety Engineers national meeting earlier this year and recommended reading, "The Tipping Point." We did, and we get your point, Marv.
LIKE A VIRUS
The "safety bug" can spread through your workplace like a virus. But so can risk taking or apathy.
Which way it goes - the direction it tips - depends on three factors familiar to anyone working in safety: 1) People, the "agents of infection"; 2) the message being carried; and 3) the work environment that, in effect, feeds the virus.
Let's study each of these "tipping" factors.
We'll start with the simple premise that some people matter more than others. This is the venerable 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. To spread an epidemic, the work is done by three personality types described by Gladwell as Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople.
Who fits these descriptions in your workplace?
Connectors are gregarious extroverts who roam the halls and have a knack for chatting it up with secretaries, mechanics, shop stewards, VPs, the FedEx guy. They know everyone by name. And they wield power, social power.
Mavens are the experts, teachers in the workplace. They don't possess the raw transmission power of Connectors. Their influence comes from collecting and brokering information that no one else possesses.
Mavens are masters at verbal communication. Salespeople have the power to persuade largely through non-verbal means - call it charisma, energy, presence. They embody Emerson's description: "What you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say."
To transmit a safety message, to build a safety culture, you need all three of these personalities working on your behalf.
Safety and health pros naturally slip into the role of Maven. Mavens are "pathologically helpful" with no personal agendas, according to Gladwell. Of course that limits their power in the organization.
Safety and health pros might also be Connectors. After all, their work takes them from the boiler room to the board room, into every corner of the workplace. Still, to generate real transmission power they need the help of other Connectors.
You don't usually find Salespeople toiling away in EHS departments. What motivates most Salespeople - money and status for instance - are not the customary rewards for safety and health work. But you have to connect to Salespeople to get your message sold. Just as technical safety and health consultants will partner with marketing specialists to grow the business.
TARGET YOUR INTERVENTIONS
Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople are your carriers. Agents of infection. Models who give both "thumbs up" for safety. The few who have the power to give permission to the many. Safety is OK, it's the thing to do.
Lesson number one from "The Tipping Point": Target your interventions, your resources, at these three groups.
Don't try to win over every single employee at once. Start small. Identify and cultivate your Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople. Then turn them loose in the workplace.
This is grass roots safety as opposed to top-down command-and-control. It's the difference between parents and peers when it comes to influencing behaviors and attitudes. Who has more clout? In her book, "The Nurture Assumption," Judith Harris agitated parents everywhere by citing numerous studies that concluded people model their friends more than authority figures.
Consultant Dan Petersen puts it this way: "Tap the intelligence of the employee. If they are not a part of what you're doing, you're missing out."
MAKING IT STICK
What is the message you want Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople to buy into and spread? Most important, how are you going to make that message stick?
Stickiness is a problem in safety. Posters, pep rallies, banners, slogans and motivational speakers don't leave lasting impressions. The message presentation might sizzle, but like fireworks it fizzles out, and employees aren't buying.
"The medium is the message," said the prophet of the electronic age, Marshall McLuhan. What was he talking about? When content becomes a commodity, how it's sold, how it's delivered, becomes crucial. Go to your nearest Starbucks to see this principle at work. Listen to the music, check out the lighting, note the colors and settle in one of those comfy chairs while downing another cup of joe.
Pay attention to packaging and presentation - this is the second lesson from "The Tipping Point." The second key to spreading your safety message like a virus through the workplace.
After all, safety mandates and instructions are hardly irresistable. To the contrary, they breed resistance. Still, many safety and health pros are blinded by the "rightness" of their message and neglect the power of packaging and presentation.
Many of the ideas promoted in "The Tipping Point" for making your message stick will have a familiar ring:
And don't insult your audience. Smokers are not smokers out of ignorance, Gladwell writes in "The Tipping Point." They know the risks; they've been warned for years. The same is true in the workplace. No one knows what's going on at work better than the line employee, says Dan Petersen.
Covering the basics of hazard recognition is a given. Beyond that, to reduce risk-taking focus on the social rules and rituals of your workplace that make taking risks acceptable. As risk consultant Peter Sandman points out, some of the most common reasons for ignoring safety instructions have nothing to do with awareness:
"My friends will laugh at me."
"I know I should but it's a pain."
"Management is sending a double message."
Next week: Epidemics are sensitive to conditions and circumstances. How fixing small housekeeping problems can have a big safety payoff.
Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.
BEHAVIORAL SAFETY NOW CONFERENCEThe recent prevailing emphasis on behavior-based safety seems finally to have died out. And good riddance - that is, to the "band wagon" mindset about this approach that characterized the field during the past few years. Perhaps now we can get beyond the marketing and sales hype to simply look at what behavioral research has to tell us about how to minimize the risks of injury.
Learn how to start your program or move it to the next level at the Behavioral Safety Now Conference on October 14-16th in Reno, Nevada, where more than 40 current case studies will be presented. You are cordially invited to attend.
Please visit www.behavioralsafetynow.com or call (281) 593-1987 for more information.
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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 - or if you have other ideas - e-mail editor Dave Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will also consider articles you've already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.