How EHS Managers Can Make Safety More Personal

June 04, 2019
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Whether EHS managers and workplace safety professionals like it or not, “selling safety” must be part of their role.

Some are excellent at “selling safety” to co-workers and inside their organization, but there’s no harm in getting extra advice. At the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHce EXP) that took place in Minneapolis last month, safety & health consultant Patrick J. Karol provided that kind of advice.

Organizations that are less mature try to “enforce and impose” safety from the top. Sometimes this may work when safety is seen primarily through the lens of compliance, but companies must also establish connections between safety and what matters most to people. In other words, how do we make safety personal?

At AIHce EXP 2019, Karol shared stories from his career as a frontline supervisor and safety professional to show how to make safety personal to workers, and how to create a culture and environment where workers follow procedures because they want to, not because they are forced to. He highlighted the following five key steps to making safety personal:

1) State a vision. This is the goal of the organization when it comes to safety, but needs to go beyond a simple slogan. It’s about outlining the destination an organization wants to reach and focusing attention on the goal.
2) Explain why the vision matters. This is especially about establishing an emotional connection to the vision, not just an intellectual one, by understanding what’s important to workers, and what are their motivations.
3) Define safety in operational terms. Safety can mean different things to different people. Define safety by highlighting the need to fill checklists or questionnaires, follow procedures, double-check instructions, read incident reports, report hazards, wear PPE, etc.
4) Invite a dialogue. Share important safety moments with workers, ask them what motivates them, and promote cooperation through recognition and encouragement.
5) Agree on action items. Ask teams for their input and suggestions to create strategies and action plans to eliminate hazards and be proactive about safety.

Safety professionals should also think about how most people “consume” messages. Karol explained that only a small part of how we consume messages is related to the actual content of the message. People usually pay more attention to how a person speaks, including tone of voice, pace, pitch, etc., and visual aspects, including body language, gestures, etc.

The content of a message is not as important as how you tell a story and how you come across when you’re talking. Ask yourself the following: Is there sincerity behind your words, both in tone and facial expression? To make safety personal, it’s good to remember that the delivery of a message speaks louder than the actual message.

A last tip from Karol is that a handwritten note or verbal “thank you” is very effective in helping workers see safety as a personal goal rather than a company policy. Providing personalized recognition and encouragement tells workers that the organization wants to make sure that they are valued and protected.

Finally, having the right EHS software facilitates communication, collaboration and the sharing of critical safety information, all of which positively impact a safety culture.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader