Why Don’t They Listen?
Ever wonder why workers can be told time after time after time how to work safely, and yet they still bend, break, mock or simply ignore procedures and policies intended to keep them safe? Why is there an impressive performance of synchronized eye rolling happening during toolbox talk meetings? Unfortunately, its not just because they don’t care- it might be something a lot worse.
When one observes a bunch of teens running around getting into trouble, causing mischief or getting themselves hurt, most people will have the same explanation for their behavior- their parents didn’t teach them any better. Or, maybe there was another influence such as a bad role model, or too much violence or other poor example of behavior that they try to emulate. For the most part, this is likely a fairly reasonable and accurate conclusion.
The thing is, its also a pretty good explanation of why workers often act as they do when they ignore established policies and procedures. Plain and simple, its what they are being taught by supervision and management. The words, actions and attitudes of management towards safety or security policies while interfacing with employees has a direct impact on employee perception of the message being communicated.
As the great American author Robert Fulghum wrote, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
Eric Glass, a Senior EHS Advisor with UL’s Workplace Health and Safety division, has identified five of the most common mistakes made by workplace leadership that can destroy an effective safety culture in the workplace.
Five common mistakes of safety leaders
1) They treat employees as equipment, not people.
Safety leaders can get so caught up in the metrics and pressures of making their workplaces the safest in their industry that they forget these “exposures” are real people. No human being is programmed the same. It takes innovative ways and many reminders to deliver a successful and sustainable message. If employees can’t learn from you, you are a waste of their time.
2) They talk about change.
Safety leaders are all about change. They can tell you every aspect of the organization that needs to “change here, change there.” The fact is that without buy-in from many departments or key decision makers, change is impossible. When change does not occur, safety leaders need to take a candid look at themselves and their own efforts to be part of the team. Successful safety leaders could be master politicians. Ineffective safety leaders are a joke.
3) They know it all.
The safety industry is filled with “know-it-alls.” You can easily spot them because they often answer questions with a smug attitude that conveys the message: “What were you thinking, stupid?” A “know-it-all” does not have the capacity to grow as a leader. Why would a trainer or long-time employee want to waste their time trying to interact with someone who already knows everything?
Employees who appear to be following a safety know-it-all’s direction are probably looking for ways to push that person off the proverbial cliff. (These same employees are probably in the break room right now having a good laugh about safety.)
4) They are not an employee advocate.
Safety leaders are on a quest to connect with their employees, claiming that they genuinely care about their concerns, input and well-being. However, when something goes wrong and people are called on the carpet, they blame the employees. If safety is only cited during punitive actions, then employees associate safety with hardship. And if you are the safety leader, you certainly are not their advocate. You are the enemy and they will laugh hysterically when you fail.
5) They don’t own it.
This occurs most often with newly appointed safety leaders who allow the safety manual or a safety policy to justify their existence. Here’s an example: While doing a walk-through with a new safety manager at a plastic injection mold manufacturer, I noticed he had to remind employees to wear eye protection. After reminding them, he would try to be their friend. He told one employee, “I know you do your job right and your chance of getting hurt is low, but I have to remind you because our insurance company requires us to have a safety policy and it says that eye protection is required in the shop area.”
Translation: “This stupid safety manual that we don’t even need in the first place says you have to wear eye protection. It is not me talking, but the insurance carrier. Don’t be mad at me, just put on your goggles so we don’t get in trouble.” It is no wonder this safety leader was never taken seriously. He ultimately was fired because the facility had no signs of safety improvement or a safety culture.
He didn’t see it coming. Do you?
- How Strong is Your Safety Culture? (assuredservicesllc.com)
- Achieving a Safety Culture is no Accident (cbpowerandindustrial.wordpress.com)
- The standard you walk past is the standard you accept (lancewiggs.com)
- Are You a People- or Task-Leader? (usefulleader.com)