In the early 1900s, the researcher Pavlov found that if you ring a bell and then feed a dog, soon all you will have to do is ring the bell and the dog will start salivating. (Remember the movie Turner and Hooch?) Pavlov referred to this as a conditioned response. His research has been stretched into areas of human behavior. People often refer to “Pavlov’s dog” when describing action that is automatic without any critical thinking.
The commercial for a well-known credit card has background singers proclaiming, “I want it now! I want it now!” The ad is all about using the credit card to get whatever you want right now. If you could buy safety in your organization, wouldn’t you? Sometimes, it seems that even if we could buy it, safety is elusive.
It’s deeply troubling when we investigate or read about incidents where workers are seriously or fatally injured. It’s devastating when it happens in our own workplace. The common question is: what went wrong?
One of the biggest mysteries in hazardous work is why well-trained people do not follow their company’s safe work practices. After years of research, the answer is becoming clear. Consider the following statement: “The gap between knowing and not doing is much bigger than the gap between knowing and not knowing.”
Did you ever play the game “20 Questions” as a kid? Maybe your mom liked to ask you questions such as “Where were you?” “Who were you with?” “Do you know what time it is?” Most of us don’t like to be hammered with questions - but we do like to give our opinions. Great leaders understand that about people, and work to find ways to ask questions that invite input and stimulate dialog. When it comes to safety, leaders can use questions to gain significant insight into the state of the organization.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Get your brain in the game.” Coaches and supervisors alike want the people around them to have their minds on what’s going on, whether it’s an actual game or the task at hand.
When it comes to safety, far too often workers, supervisors, and managers put up barriers to safety and they don’t even realize it. Yet, adopting an approach of readiness will help overcome, and even remove, many of the obstacles we have in our minds.
Many company leaders and managers wonder, “Are we talking about safety too much?” The answer: “No one knows but you.” The fact is that it’s important to talk about safety, because injuries are a concern for everyone. Consider this: how can you talk about safety in such a way that your employees don’t get sick of hearing about it, and therefore stop listening?
Often, it seems like the job of the safety director, manager, or coordinator is a no-win job. Everyone blames the person in charge of the safety department when the safety performance is poor. Moreover, the safety manager just doesn't understand why the rest of the company doesn't "get" safety. Sometimes, it's a matter of perspective about the role of the safety function in the organization.
Two Philosophies About Incentives
One of the great debates in workplace safety today is the role of incentives. Two philosophies seem to exist. One says that workers will not work safe unless we give them incentives to do so. The other says that incentives should not be required for workers to do their jobs without injury. Interestingly, safety and operational supervisors, managers, and directors who are working hard to find a way to focus employees on reducing injuries fuel the debate.
Is there a culture war in your workplace?
Not too long ago an executive of a large company in a high-risk industry proudly displayed his handsome new shirt with a company logo. Below the logo was a large “7” in bright yellow and a line below that read "Reduce Injuries to 7 in 2007."