Thought LeadershipHow many times do you hear someone say safety needs to be a habit? I think people who are great at something display more than outstanding habits; they demonstrate outstanding skill. It is easy to mistake a skill for a habit.

Skills are adaptable
Skills are adaptable to the situation. A skilled worker can use the techniques he or she has learned and when confronted with a new or unique situation they can apply those skills and get the job done. I've never met a "habitual machinist," but I have met many skilled machinists who know the principles of their craft and can use them to create or repair something. They can work for one company, in one industry and then change companies and be just as successful. 

Safety must be a skill we teach everyone
When we teach safety as a skill, people can adapt and apply that skill to all areas of their life. If someone "habitually" uses hearing protection when entering a posted work area, they are only protected then and there. When a person has safety as a skill, they are protected in many more situations. They can arrive home and go to mow the lawn. They notice how loud the lawnmower is so they go and get some hearing protection and use it. They understood the principle of hearing protection, realized their lawnmower was loud and proceeded to protect their hearing. All without specific safety training with lawn mowers.

Habits are mindless
Why would we ever encourage mindless behavior in the workplace?  We are always safer when we are focused on the task at hand. Think of how many injuries occur when someone is doing something habitually and mindlessly. People walk without consciously thinking of every step. This sets some people up for a fall. Conditions along their path differ from the norm because of debris or a slippery condition, and because they aren't walking mindfully or skillfully they trip or slip. When warned of a dangerous condition such as ice they engage their mind and skill and safely make it across an icy path.

Skill is a more respectful word
I think of workers as skilled professionals I respect. Whether it is the newest person on the job or a seasoned craftsperson, they are due my respect. As an international safety speaker, from a communication and leadership perspective, I am always more effective when I have and show respect for those with whom I am communicating. The word skill conveys respect much better than habit.

Until next week,
I'll be, "Watching Out For Everyone's Safety™"