Before you try and introduce the concept of a safer workplace, you will need to spend some time putting some thought and planning into the possible obstacles you will face. Think about the people who are going to be affected by a different safety regime and identify the people who are likely to resist the change. What sort of things will they say based on their understanding of safety and workplace incidents? At this stage it may pay to check up on their beliefs so that you can formulate a plan to handle any resistance that they may put up. It is much better to spend the time now before you act because if you plan now, you will find the introduction of the safety concept much easier.
In most work groups you will find a veteran worker who has been with the organization for some time and commands a certain degree of influence over the others. They often have very fixed ideas and require some work to open up their minds to change. These people are best dealt with as individuals before you have any group meetings. If you can persuade these people they will be on your side and support your safety initiative. If you fail to do this, they will prove to be very disruptive and influential in making the transition difficult.
The best way of introducing the concept to these individuals is to get agreement first of all that the objective of a safer workplace is beneficial to everyone. This may take a little while but it is very important to the success of the change. Start a dialogue with them and get their agreement that it would be a good initiative and that it was possible. This may reveal the first hurdle to overcome. Many people believe that accidents happen and have never thought through the process of discovering the causes. As a result, they are generally pretty convinced that you can’t prevent injuries.
Prior to the conversation or conversations, plan your strategy, build up your case and work out how you are going to present the information. You can gently take them through the process of a workplace incident and point out the causes that would normally include unsafe behavior and unsafe conditions. This will enable you to focus on causes and the human factor. A recent workplace accident that they are familiar with will make it relevant to their workplace and have considerably more influence over them.
As you gradually get your points across you will still meet a little resistance. Frequently, the person may use the example of someone being struck by lightning as not being preventable. At this point you can agree with them but also remind them that it is an extremely rare event and it normally doesn’t happen at work.
Emphasize the prevention aspects of safety because all employers have a duty to keep them as safe as possible and reduce harm. Explain to the veteran employee that they have a lot of influence and you would like them to direct it to helping to prevent incidents and injuries in the workplace.
Earlier studies have found that employees need the following if they are to truly buy into efforts at keeping the workplace safe:
• Trust – Workers must believe in management’s emphasis on safety, and that the safety program is primarily for their own good.
• Knowledge – Employees must be given all appropriate information about the program. Generally, the more they know, the more they will be supportive and involved.
• Commitment – Like owners and managers, employees must be committed to the concept of safety if they are to practice it.
• Communication – Lines of communication must be open between workers and workers, and workers and management. Strategies for opening and maintaining lines of communication must be employed.
• Attitude – Employees themselves may well be the best examples for each other in maintaining standards of a safety program. Attitude is catching, and often the attitude of commitment must be caught from management and ownership.
• Involvement – The bottom line of a safety program is in practicing the safe behavior that is called for. Sometimes this may mean maintaining what already has been established; sometimes it involves major changes. In any case, the employee must be willing to make the effort to actually “live out” safety practices.
• Recognition – Not only management, but front-line workers must be involved in recognizing safe behavior. Peer support is crucial for maintaining program enthusiasm and involvement.