Before you perform a job or task, do you think about the potential hazards or risks associated with the job that could result in an injury?

Do you take the steps necessary to eliminate the hazard or lower the risk?

Workers who think about the potential hazards or risks associated with a job and take action to mitigate them typically have internalized the importance that following safe work practices can have: using the right tool for the job; following safe operating procedures; using the proper personal protective equipment; inspecting equipment before use; stopping a job if you are unsure; or obtaining the necessary help to complete an assignment can prevent injuries from occurring.

Internalizing safety starts with placing a value on it or believing that there is some importance associated with it. Personal experiences from the past or witnessing a serious accident can make you believe the importance of safety and have a profound impact on your behavior.

Does this woman value respiratory protection or is she just doing as she’s told?

Compliance can cause internalization

In certain cases a regulatory requirement can help internalize a safe behavior. I truly began to wear my seat belt on a regular basis when seat belt laws became effective. Compliance was important if I wanted to avoid a traffic violation (i.e., negative consequence). After several years of being in compliance with this requirement I began to feel uncomfortable without the use of a seat belt. The safety behaviorist would term this a habit strength behavior. The point being that the regulation caused me to internalize this very important safe behavior.

Knowledge through training does impact our ability to understand the importance of certain safe behaviors; but consistent reinforcement is also important to internalize that behavior over a period of time. Once it is internalized it becomes part of the value system of the worker.

Many companies state safety is a priority in the workplace — but there is a distinction between priority and a value. In terms of priorities, attention to safety usually occurs when a rash of injuries occur.

A value is a belief the organization has embraced, communicated and defines the character and operation of a business. Simply stated, if you are going to be part of this organization, following safe practices must be consistently and regularly expected at all times. Priorities change constantly but values are uncompromising and remain the same.

Leadership sets the tone

It’s much easier to internalize safety as a value if your company or organization values it. Companies or organizations have cultures shaped by important and highly held values. Leadership is the key to ensuring values are consistently followed and reinforced.

Leadership needs to consistently instill safety as a value by discussing it in daily meetings, ensuring strict compliance with rules and procedures through enforcement, establishing it as part of the goals and objectives, incorporating safety performance in appraisals and evaluations, incorporating it in business planning and striving to achieve continuous improvement.

How values evolve

With constant reinforcement, internalizing values occurs over a period of time. Value systems begin to develop and take shape during our early years and continue to develop over a lifetime. Our experiences, training, influencing by others, and maturation are not one-time events but a continuous process that influences our values. This is an important point when attempts to improve safety performance are initiated. To change behaviors you must change the value system of the individual. Workers must develop a value system that supports the importance of following safe practices at all times.

Signs of value acceptance

How can you tell when employees have truly embraced safety as a value? You’ll know when your employees:
  • Don’t compromise their beliefs (e.g., take short cuts) for any reason.
  • Follow rules and regulations because they believe in the results.
  • Enforce rules and regulations with peers and others without prompting.
  • Become uncomfortable with unsafe work and stop work until the condition is corrected.
  • Become influential on others to perform work safely.
  • Contribute to improving the safety performance of the organization through their words and actions.
  • Follow safety practices both at work and at home.
Some workers may have established a strong value for safety as the result of life experiences. They may come into work placing a strong importance on safety. But leadership of companies and organizations must instill the importance or value of safety in all workers in order to be effective in accident prevention and have a strong safety process in place.