Approach and Coach – Making Safety a Value

Approach-and-coach-image.jpgYou are heading down the highway driving over the speed limit and you see a police car at the side of the road. Your reaction?  Slam on the breaks and slow down. You pass the police car hoping they don’t pull you over; to your dismay, you see lights in your rear view mirror and a few minutes later you have issued a citation. Police issue citations in hopes it will deter future violations. While a slap on the wrist like a citation may sting initially, most find themselves back in the swing of speeding, and the unsafe behavior continues.

  The citation does not make speeding any less convenient (when you're not getting caught). Was your intention to cause an accident? Of course not, you are focused on getting to your destination. In fact, you were just following the flow of traffic, everyone is doing it, you just happened to get caught. This scenario is no different than the employees at your workplace.  Safety violations are not done due to lack of caring. Employees may be so focused on completing the task, that they make decisions that compromise their safety and the safety of those around them.

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Like police officers, supervisors spend their days reprimanding employees for performing tasks in an unsafe manner only to have those same employees conduct the same violation over and over again. This never-ending cycle has left many scratching their heads asking why employees continue to violate safety processes and procedures and what can be done to shift these behaviors. One method that directly affects the behavior of individuals is your observation process and how your observers are approaching those team members who are not performing to your expectations.

In your observation process, it is important to steer clear from being a safety “cop” – one who focuses on catching unsafe behaviors and conditions and uses the opportunity to “punish” those who are in violation. As mentioned above, punitive measures such as a fine or discipline do not change the way a person behaves long term.  We need to focus on creating a culture where your observers are coaching and mentoring those who work around them.  Observers should be taking the time to educate employees on “why” a behavior is unsafe and recommend ways to perform the task safely. A culture where observers are taking the time to coach and mentor will not only create a safer work environment but it will also create an element of trust within the team.

Why is coaching and mentoring so scarce? Some observers struggle to have conversations with others concerning safety because it is not currently the “norm”.  We have no issues conversing about vacations, the latest basketball game, or production schedule; however, we struggle with telling an individual to stop what they are doing and educating them why it is unsafe and how it can have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Many feel that it’s “not their place”, or some feel intimidated to do so.  This is where the trust element is so important. As your observers begin to approach employees and coach them on safety, your culture will begin to shift. The safety conversations will become the “norm”- an engrained part of your safety culture. The topic about saving people’s lives will no longer be taboo; it will become a value of the team.

As safety professionals, it is our responsibly to coach and mentor our observers and partners. We must take the time to look at the data observers provide via safety inspections/audits and identify coaching and mentoring opportunities.  Providing feedback to observers will allow them the opportunity for improvement on the quality of observations and observation details, as well as better opportunities to identify leading indicators. Observation data can be used to facilitate some much needed conversations to prevent serious incidents. Coaching observers on approaching employees and explaining how it is an opportunity to educate on “why” things are unsafe and “how” they should be done is an important message about the safety culture of your organziation.

The goal is to prevent injuries and save people’s lives. We can start by educating our workforce one unsafe behavior at a time. Education is the key to making a difference in how people perform their work. Education changes how people “think”; and therefore, what people “do”.  

Grace Herrera

Written by Grace Herrera

GRACE HERRERA is a Process Improvement Leader for Predictive Solutions. Grace has more than 15 years of risk and safety experience with expertise in managing a predominantly Hispanic workforce, claims management, and training and development. She has more than six years of experience in general construction safety. In 2010, Grace was named one of the “Top 25 Women to Watch” by Business Insurance. She is a previous author for CFMA Building Profits & EHS Today Magazines has presented at several industry association conferences.

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