In addition to presenting, we also had the opportunity to listen and learn from the experiences of other safety professionals. One of the presentations I attended was on initiating a behavioral-based safety program. The presenter outlined the key steps in the process: form a committee, create observation checklists and train employees to be observers who know how to use the checklists. He emphasized that it was critical to take blame out of the observations so that trust can be built. He further commented that without trust the program would never be accepted and it could not produce results. And then the “ah-ha!” moment: in response to a question concerning implementation, the presenter said, “Before you can even begin the process, you (management) must make decisions on what you want and what roles you want employees to play.” There it is. The defining paradigm, or worldview, that is the foundation of most safety programs. It is one in which management operates from a core belief that employees are not interested, capable or trustworthy enough to make the “right decisions” pertaining to their safety and to the safety of their co-workers. And it is this core belief that causes organizations to lose the war on safety.
Daniel Pink states in his book Drive, “Organizations still operate from assumptions about human potential that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.” This is why organizations continue to search for the holy grail of safety without realizing it is their core world view about human motivation and potential that is the impediment to building and sustaining a high-performing safety culture. They are constricted and bound by antiquated 20th century science on human motivation.
Edward Deci, Ph.D, a pioneer in the Self-Determination Theory, says, “Unfortunately, we observe many mangers and academics who doggedly cling to the now discredited tools of command-and-control methods; these methods ensure the death of employees’ motivation and pro-active engagement in work.” I doubt that there is a “Holy Grail of Safety,” but I’m convinced that the path to building and sustaining a high-performing safety culture is not found by following and applying folklore science and discredited tools of command and control management, which is why “A Path To Sustainable Zero” adheres to a view that nurtures the intrinsic importance of safety.
“A Path To Sustainable Zero” operates from the belief that employees want to be safe and that they care about the safety of each other, and if given the opportunity and trust to demonstrate these intrinsic values they will not disappoint themselves, their co-workers or their organization.
In a recent “what do we want” focus group, a handful of employees crafted the following statement:
“I want to work in an environment that regards my personal safety as a top priority so I can fully engage in my work. I want to feel respected and cared for and to experience satisfaction in the work I perform.”
It’s not managements’ role to force safety on their employees but rather to encourage and allow it to emerge from within them. This statement validates that employees deeply care about safety and that the role of management is to provide the resources, support and training safety leaders and supervisors need to foster and monitor the development of their employees’ intrinsic motivation to create and sustain a safe workplace.
It isn’t perfect and it does take time for employees to trust the transition to a totally new model and approach to safety. Remember that they’ve been trained in Skinner’s operant conditioning system, which believes animals must be trained with carrots and sticks in order to perform. However, if management stays on the new path with the conviction that employees are capable and invested in creating a safe workplace, it won’t be long before employees become fully engaged and everyone experiences the benefits and rewards of a high performing safety culture.