Safety and risk management at work is easy.
When you spot someone flouting the rules, all you need to do is pull them aside, show them your laminated safety posters on the office corkboard, give them a telling off, then send them on their way with a newfound passion for safety.
Except that’s not really how it works at all.
Let’s be honest: no one has ever changed how they do things because someone told them off. Very rarely has someone skipped out of a meeting with the health and safety boss inspired to change their ways.
Just telling the worker what they did wrong isn’t going to do much because, in reality, they already knew what they were doing was wrong. They decided to do things their way for a reason, and it’s your job to figure out what that reason was.
The human factor, which I’ve discussed previously, is one of the most unpredictable parts of risk management on construction sites and beyond. It’s the health and safety manager’s responsibility to identify the triggers for rule-breaking and tackle them at the source.
Telling v motivating
No one wants to be told what to do. Very few people respond well to orders, especially when they’re being reprimanded.
Sometimes, pulling an employee up on something is an unfortunate necessity. If their actions put others at risk, or it isn’t the first time they’ve flouted the rules, then discipline is important.
However, if you find that all you’re ever doing is challenging people for breaking the rules, or it’s your go-to tool for enforcing safety policies, then you might be coming at things from the wrong angle. Too much modern health and safety is built around tackling safety behaviours after issues appear, rather than encouraging the right behaviours and skills from the start.
Ultimately, people won’t do something (or won’t stop doing something they want to do) without a good reason. So how do you find the right motivation?
The right motivation
To find this motivation, you need to go above and beyond the standard ‘person with a clipboard’ persona. It would be best if you moved away from the traditional compliance-based approach (‘stop doing this because the law says so’) to identifying motivational triggers and apply a coach-like approach instead.
There’s no one size-fix-all for creating a truly effective safety culture in the workplace, especially when it comes to motivation. Every person’s motivational ‘sweet spot’ will be different, and different people need different triggers.
To find and encourage the motivators on your site, you could look beyond what isn’t working and look at what is. Why? Can you repeat it?
Make sure you’re reviewing people as individuals rather than a single monolith. Then, you can provide real supportive feedback on what they’re doing well and what they could do better. I’ve blogged previously about how to properly motivate staff to want to be safer.
These strategies and others will allow you to coach your team more into putting thought into health and safety. However, to see real changes in your staff, you might want to consider setting your sights slightly higher.
Focus on leadership
One of the worst mistakes a health and safety manager can make is assuming that only the workers on the ground need to be thinking about safety.
From my experience in the safety industry, I know first-hand that some of the most powerful changes come from above. I’m not talking about managers coming to the site and throwing their weight around. I’m talking about real changes from the top down.
For a business to have a truly effective safety culture, everyone needs to play a part: this includes managers and directors. When a company’s leadership shows real support for safety in their messaging and behaviours, it cascades down to the rest of the business. How can directors expect their employees to care about health and safety if they don’t?
When management shows a real, sincere commitment to safety, it encourages others to do the same. Workers do what managers do.
As the health and safety professional in your business, you should be putting at least as much effort into targeting the safety behaviours of management and leadership as you are into workers’ behaviour.
By implementing a safety leadership coaching strategy, you might soon find that you’re fighting fewer fires, and employees are more receptive to your risk management policies.
Hopefully, you can work directly with a leadership team, letting them know about the effect their sincere input could have on the business’s safety culture. However, you may have a tougher job if your business doesn’t put much stock in psychological safety.
For the most part, however, leaders will usually want to do what they can to improve safety when they know the benefits. A stronger, more well-rounded safety culture doesn’t just mean safer workers, but fewer potential legal issues and a much lower impact on efficiency, saving time and money. A safer business is a healthier business.
There are multiple ways to get leadership involved in safety. Directors should be sitting in on important safety briefings, taking notes, and showing a real interest in improving safety and wellbeing across the business.
Leaders are often unaware of how their leadership skills, communications, behaviour and even their body language can affect employees’ outlook, especially when it comes to safety. No one wants to work for a company that doesn’t care. This is why safety leadership coaching can be so powerful.
Via proper leadership coaching, management and supervisors can identify their own safety weaknesses. They can also learn the real benefits of better company culture, encouraging them to take an active role. Being more curious and asking questions. Once a leadership team is seen to be taking a sincere interest in safety, those throughout the company have a reason to do the same.
Bring in the big guns
I know first-hand how difficult it can sometimes be to instigate change from within a business. This is even more obvious when it comes to working with leaders: directors and management have a thousand and one things to deal with, and it can be hard to get face time to tackle the issues. Sometimes, you can be too close to the problem, and your pleas fall on deaf ears.
This is where external safety leadership coaching can make a big difference. By bringing in a third party, you can schedule coaching sessions in advance, creating a sense of obligation, and making it more difficult to avoid the issue.
Third-party safety consultants with a coach-like approach such as myself can also bring a fresh perspective, helping you and those in positions of leadership to identify issues with a safety culture that you may not have even thought about.
If there’s a deadlock when it comes to safety leadership, an unbiased consultant can help break it and get everyone back to the important work of improving safety.
Getting leaders involved in safety can be one of the most powerful tools in a safety and risk manager’s arsenal. When directors and managers show real willing and involvement in safety at work, it inspires others to do the same, allowing them to internalise the teachings and creating a sustainable safety culture.
I have two decades of experience in safety and risk management which includes coaching managers and supervisors to become good leaders. If you are curious about how I can help you, send me a message on 07814 203 977, or use the contact form below or if you prefer book a 15-minute virtual call. to talk things through.