Every creature on earth is guided at some levels by a certain kind of safety culture howbeit on different degrees. Animals and birds strive to stay safe in their own unique 'beastly' way, keeping themselves and their offspring from harms’ way (predators). A study of the behaviour of animals gives that understanding. It is a natural phenomenon. From territorial protection and construction of "apartments" such as nests, holes etc. to storing up food for the rainy days. It's a daily struggle to keep at it. Animals have it inherently engraved in their DNA.
Humans have only taken this natural and instinctive phenomenon of staying and being safe to a more deliberate and sophisticated level. Mankind has developed several safety strategies and methodologies thereby giving it a more demonstrable and objective appearance. At the heart of all of these programmes and schemes is the fact that safety is commonsense. The successful implementation of occupational health and safety management system in any organization including at work sites depends largely on intricate processes and systems which are hinged on very simple principles. More often than not the simple safety principles are overlooked and organizations struggle to impact convoluted and sometimes mystifying codes and standards. This is precisely where many organizations get it mixed up.
It should be stated at this point that effective safety implementation is largely dependent on effective safety coaching and mentoring starting from first principles.
I have come to know in my experience as a safety professional that no organization wants incidents or accidents, injuries, fatalities, damage to equipment or environmental impact in their operations.
They all have a desire to have a safe workplace and the pivot in this drive is the safety coaching process.
When an adequate safety coaching program is implemented, people begin to view it as core value of the organization. The workforce has to be engaged because it is everyone’s responsibility.
When a firm safety foundation is set through proper and effective coaching and mentoring, it provides a platform for a strong safety culture. The benefits to a strong safety culture are myriad. Morale is typically higher in organizations that have minimal incidents. The benefits go beyond the often obvious measurable ones including the significant savings that can be generated from having a sustainable safety culture that produces few incidents and losses if any. It is about loss prevention.
Safety coaching is the concept of facilitating the safety performance, learning and development of another person through support, observation, feedback and accountability. An effective safety coach will express support for the safe behaviours they observe and offer useful and caring feedback regarding at-risk behaviours observed. The safety coach will then share the observations with the management and employees involved, who will analyze the information and come up with strategies and procedures to prevent that behaviour in the future and make the workplace safer.
The safety coaching process has been successful in many organizations because, although it can be time-consuming to implement, it is one of the most effective ways to affect an organization’s safety culture, and in turn, change employees’ attitude towards safety.
Some tips to consider
- In the safety coaching process, it is important to teach personnel how to safely carry out a task, but just teaching is not enough. A more critical approach would be to get full engagement by teaching personnel why it is vital to undertake a task the way specified.
- Safety coaching helps to empower employees as co-owners of the process. When employees are engaged in setting safety rules, they are more likely to comply with them than rules imposed or thrown at them.
- To show that management truly values the coaching initiative, it should be actively involved in the process not just in terms of setting goals and targets but also in providing incentives and rewards. This motivates employees’ participation and accountability.
- Many organizations set consequence management side by side with reward and incentive schemes, some paying more attention to the former. As much as trying to even out is concerned this bears relevance, but in the end the system should not be tuned to finding and focusing on the negatives. It should rather be to encourage the positives and create an environment to support and coach the offenders to always do the right thing.
- The safety coaching system should use non-directive communication technique to drive home a point. A good safety coach focuses on the behaviour, not the person. Feedbacks should be constructive to encourage not necessarily castigating and condemning. Safety coaches and their organizations must stop focusing on the things that go wrong and start measuring things that go well.
- As much as data gathering and utilization is valuable we must be mindful not to become over-analytical. What is most important in developing a safety culture is the process of interpersonal observations and feedbacks not just graphs and charts to give a facelift.
- Organizations must pursue continuous improvement. As the safety coaching process is being implemented, organizations would have to make refinements based on results. Safety perception surveys can be a valuable tool for assessing employees’ feelings about the organization’s safety culture.
- Organizations should set up a program to mentor potential safety coaches from within employee ranks. Part of a safety leader’s job is to develop additional safety leaders and coaches.
These tips and others can help to assist understanding of the safety coaching program and therefore significantly help improve organizations’ safety performance.
In a future article we will consider how management must lead by example and correctly apply certain factors to monitor performance through a comprehensive assist and assure program.