Positive Safety

So as I was at a safety conference, I figured I should actually sit in on a Safety Presentation. I picked the one with the speaker I had heard before. I was happy it was the presentation I had heard before because I needed the reminder of the message and wanted to see if there was a way that I, person who sits behind the desk, could find a way to share safety with our front line workers.

Tom Slattery with Raven Industries talks about how to put a positive spin on safety. He has some great ideas about reframing the conversation around safety. The current conversation is more about catching someone doing something they aren’t suppose to or counting how many days are accident free. Is that really the message you want? People will try to hide what happened or just won’t report it. And that’s not really the point of safety. You want to get the positive, safe behavior done repeatedly.

Typically, if someone has an accident, the first thing we do is retrain them. Is that really the right thing though? Maybe, maybe not. The employee, unless they are brand new, has probably heard the training before. Maybe they do need to hear it again because they forgot or maybe they didn’t understand. But if you don’t look into it further to find out WHY the behavior happened, you can’t be sure.

Retraining is an easy answer, but it is really only an Activator to the behavior. It communicates the expected Behavior. The 3rd part of this is the Consequences. The consequences are really what drive the behavior.

Consider the 2 signs below. Both are safety rules, right? But which one are you going to obey more often than the other? speed_limit

You probably said the No Parking part, and why? Because you are more likely to get a ticket for parking illegally than for driving 36-40 miles per hour in that area, unless, of course, you see the police car … So, you are thinking about the consequences when you make that decision. You decide which consequences are immediate (police officer who can see you speeding) or certain (is your car likely to be seen in the no parking zone?) and make your decision from there. So do your employees when it comes to the safety rules.

If we want to increase the frequency of a behavior, the behavior needs to be reinforced, either positively or negatively (but this is not a punishment). If we want to decrease the frequency of a behavior, we either provide a punishment (where the employee gets something they don’t want) or extinction (where they don’t get something they want — like when you ignore your child’s tantrum). So we need to use reinforcement to get the behavior we want.

Negative reinforcement is typically a more long term or even a vague consequence. Wear your hard hat or you could get hit in the head. Wear your seat belt or you could get hurt. Don’t speed or you could get a ticket. Study or you could fail. Not overly effective – you might get the performance you want, but probably not consistently.

Positive reinforcement, well, we’ve all seen that work. In my own life, my youngest daughter makes her bed because she likes to hear us say “thanks for making your bed.” I still go to the gym regularly because once, 4 years ago, my husband told me he was proud of me for going. Here in the mid-west, I hear a lot of “I shouldn’t have to thank someone for doing their job.” Really? Do you know how far it would go? You don’t need to say it every day, but an occasional “Good job on …” “Thanks for coming in today …” (especially if they work outside & it’s a particularly nasty weather day) has a lasting impact on the individual employee. And if you get one employee to speak positively about the work environment, it can spread, especially if you see other leaders, employees sharing that message.

I’m hoping to get Tom to come speak to our leaders. It’s one thing for this to come from me. It’s quite another for them to hear it as a group and then work together to find a way to make this happen in our department. I don’t want this to be a “have to; this needs to be a “want to.”

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