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Paying Safety Forward…See Something, Say Something

It’s difficult for me to pass an unsafe situation and not stop to say something.  I’ve only stopped a couple of times when I’ve been “off duty” – I was thanked once and told to &^%# off the other time!  The commercial roofing contractor that had a crew working without fall protection was also allowing them to use metal ladders very close to the overhead power coming into the building.  I tried to put my observations in terms the foreman could understand…” I’m saving you from a fine, if I were OSHA…”  He cut me off and told me to go away. At least I can sleep better knowing that I tried.

At Merjent we have a STOP WORK expectation– if you don’t feel safe with the work your performing or if you see an unsafe condition or behavior you will intervene to stop the work.  Many of our clients expect the same from us.

It’s easy to say but difficult to do as the battle is almost always from within and we may try to convince ourselves…It’s not my responsibility”; “I don’t want to ruffle feathers”; “I’ll cause a project delay”; “I’ll lose the respect of the crew,” etc.  Personally, my motivation is my fear of hearing about an injury that I know I could have prevented.

I don’t nit-pick the safety infractions to death but rather focus on growing a workforce effort where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  My goal is to create a desire for the workers to look out for each other. Simply put: “I’ve got your back and I know you’ve got mine.” How is that type of work environment created?  Do you use the carrot, the stick, or maybe a little of each?

Intervention with a Teaching Moment

The foundation for getting people to do something they don’t want to do is respect.  They must have respect for the person delivering the request and respect for the system they are working within.  Success of the intervention, the “say something” part of the expectation, depends heavily on the way the information is delivered.  No one likes to get yelled at or belittled in front of their peers.  Seeing someone using a ladder the wrong way shouldn’t involve screaming at the worker but rather spending a few minutes to provide a refresher on ladder safety.  The parting message to the worker should include a reminder that safety is important to their coworkers, the client, and ultimately the sustainability of the company.

See each intervention opportunity as a teaching moment but be sure to set limits.  Without improved behavior, a worker becomes a liability and, at some point, the “stick” must be used, including the threat of termination.

It’s very easy to jump to conclusions when we see workers making poor choices that could result in an injury.  Root cause analysis is used to identify the reasons that something happened.  When you are intervening or investigating don’t forget some of the leading reasons for safety lapses that result in injury:

safety graph

For me, paying safety forward includes my responsibility to my family.  A little bit of education and awareness early in the lives of my kids will hopefully pay off down the road and keep them out of harm’s way.  My hope is that their confidence develops and they are not shy about evoking their dad’s “see something say something” expectation as a means of paying safety forward, themselves.

Dan Hannan, safety professionalAbout the Author: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent  consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached at dhannan@merjent.com.

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