1767c Safety at work: an issue of daily management behavior

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Abstract

Do we know any employee who wants to have an accident and hurt himself while driving to work in the morning? The answer obviously is ‘No’. Nevertheless, our traffic radios report accidents on the road every single morning, accidents that took place although nearly all drivers know how to drive safely. It is equally obvious that nobody wants to suffer from an accident at work, the difference being that on the road we are fully responsible for our safety whereas at work there is the additional responsibility of management which results from the basic business principle of ‘pacta sunt servanda’. For his performance, we promise the worker among other things to keep him safe. The question now becomes ‘what can management do?’. Some fifty years ago we stopped blaming the employee for violating rules (at times it is still done!) and we turned to behavior based safety, meaning that management has to influence the workers so that they will work – meaning behave – in a safe way. As a consequence, we have to figure out why people could and would behave in an unsafe way. The main reason for this is that safety is not – as sometimes written in corporate documents - our most important objective. We do not start work to be safe but to accomplish things. We seek that satisfaction of something well done – and when I write ‘we’ I mean everybody. Most worker I have met during the last 25 years want to accomplish something, for different reasons. Safety however is not an accomplishment. As long as no incidents happen, safety is neither perceived nor measured. We perceive changes; safety staying safety is not on our radar screen and therefore is being pushed in the background of our mind. Additionally, most of us believe that incidents happen only to others: young people think that incidents take place when older people are slow to react and older people tend to think that younger people are rash and do not evaluate risks properly. Consequently, we have a case of change management before us. Using a model developed by the INSEAD professor Jean-François Manzoni I asked a number of management teams which was the most important lever to influence the behavior of workers. The outcome was very clear: it is the behavior of management. But the same management teams indicated that they spent very few hours influencing safety for a variety of reasons, not the least one being not knowing how to do it. Therefore, we first have to change the behavior of managers regarding their role in safety at work. Managers must recognize that they should be the teachers, the coaches, the motivators and the mentors of their people regarding safety at work. And this combination has to be applied daily, the most important activity being delivering the daily Safety Moment at the start of work and the very frequent Safety Observation Tour by all managers (all levels and all functions) to make safety at the worker level an integral part of work life.

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