Kevin Ian Schmidt

Successfully Persuade People That Workplace Injuries Are Preventable

Before you try and introduce the concept of a zero injury 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.

“I Have Always Done it That Way”

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.

Check Out: Ignoring Workplace Safety

Arguments for “Accidents will happen”

There are some compelling arguments against the philosophy that all accidents are preventable, which must be considered when trying to change a safety culture. Here are five examples:

  • Argument #1 – How can an accident be preventable if it is unforeseeable?
  • Argument #2 – How can you prevent an accident if it was caused by nothing more than a random equipment failure or PPE failure?
  • Argument #3 – How can you prevent an accident that was precipitated by an act of nature?
  • Argument #4 – How can you prevent an accident that was due to an act of sabotage or terrorism?
  • Argument #5 – How can you remove the law of chance which dictates that sooner or later, every imperfect person will have a careless moment or be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

While these arguments may sound compelling, it may be hasty to accept them at face value.  With the first argument, for instance, it does not hold up when you consider that even a lack of foresight can be prevented. Would the foresight not be improved by greater experience, better training, a more effective job safety analysis, manufacturer’s data or historical records of similar incidences? And foresight is greatly improved when workers are taught, not to only do a JSA at the beginning of the job, but to continuously risk assess their every move during the job.

Root cause is not random: With the second argument, even what appears to be a random failure can be traced back to a root cause that drives you back to how it could have been prevented. Could the failure not be prevented by better design, better operational practices, better maintenance or better monitoring?

Check Out what I offer on root causes here and also on Amazon

Acts of nature are not accidents: With the third argument, an act of nature should not fall into the category of accidents, but into the category referred to by lawyers as “Acts of God.” In other words, while these are not preventable, neither are they accidents. Having said that, many “Acts of God” do follow a pattern, such as the weather, and many can be detected beforehand such as earthquakes and volcanoes, giving us the ability to prevent even many “Acts of God” mishaps.

Don’t confuse safety with security: With the fourth argument, sabotage and terrorism are not accidents, but injuries or near misses that were intentional and planned. Those are not safety issues, but rather security issues.

Reduce the odds: The fifth argument is perhaps my favorite. I think we sometimes treat “chance” as an entity that is capable of exerting force or influence. If we are referring to mathematical probability, this is a different story and serves only to prove our point that it is possible to prevent all accidents.

Like any well-constructed building, employees need sturdy pillars of support in order to become active, dedicated participants in the creation of a safe workplace. The four main pillars are:

  • Education: No matter the type of company or operation, education is the primary tool for increasing the safety knowledge of employees. Employers should make a strong commitment to providing primary and continuing safety education that keeps their employees up to date and fully informed about the latest advances and the most current expert thinking. Team building exercises can be added to educational opportunities to encourage a collective spirit.
  • Communication: The free and continuous flow of information between management and employees is critical to building trust, promoting awareness, preventing and addressing problems and furthering education. Encourage the early communication of potential hazards and remediation options without fear of disciplinary action.
  • Recognition: Positive feedback and recognition for safe behavior and safety program contributions will encourage proactive safety thinking that moves beyond a focus on baseline requirements. Acknowledge and address mistakes, but keep the primary focus on achievements or opportunities for doing better next time.
  • Checks and Balances: To maintain integrity and optimize results, a system of checks and balances that includes both internal and external regulations and guidelines must be clearly outlined and understood by all. Some of these checks and balances include safety policies and procedures; safe operating practices; and federal, state and local regulations.

In addition to working consistently to strengthen the four pillars, other guiding philosophies may be utilized to promote a safety culture that supports a strong employee foundation:

  • Do not automatically blame individuals for near misses and mistakes. Instead, look for systemic causes.
  • Take pride in publicly promoting a great safety record and pointing to employee safety innovations and achievements.
  • Build safety into daily processes. Make safety a way of life.
Check Out: Near Miss Program

Why Employees Take Risks

If you want employees to make real changes, you need to connect with their current perspective and understand why they take risks on the job. Understanding the current problems that keep workers from being as safe as they could be lets you know the underlying values and assumptions you need to reshape to effectively change the culture. Here are just a few of the common reasons why your employees may be risking their safety:

  • They don’t believe safety measures are important to their superiors.
  • They feel invincible after having done a task so many times without incident.
  • They assume cutting a safety corner here or there won’t be enough to get them hurt.
  • They are in a hurry and believe speed is more important than safety.
  • They are unaware of hazards because they lack proper training.

Starting with employees’ motivations for taking risks or their lack of motivation for committing to safe work practices is critical if you want to make lasting changes. Underlying beliefs and values are what make up a culture, so to change the culture, you must shift these beliefs and values.


Eight tips for motivating employees to work safely.

These tips aren’t about strong-arming employees. They are all ways to get employees engaged with the safety culture, so they’re eager to embrace positive change.

1. Identify Safety Hazards: Before you dive into the work of raising your organization’s standards for safety, take some time to establish what hazards present the most significant risks to your company. Safety hazards differ from industry to industry, from company to company and facility to facility, so make sure you look beyond the common hazards to see what may present a risk at your business.

Check Out: PPE Hazard Assessment and Certification

OSHA provides six actionable steps to help you successfully identify and assess problem areas present at your business. If you feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, these steps can help direct you as you note all safety and health hazards. If you encounter safety issues you can remedy right away, be proactive in fixing them. However, most problems you discover will likely be unavoidable risks that come with the work you do. Take careful note of the trouble spots you identify, and ask employees to contribute their observations about workplace hazards.

2. Emphasize the Big Picture: When you start to work with your employees to change the workplace culture, make sure you don’t limit your focus to specific hazards or to rules and regulations. These specifics are undoubtedly critical, but you want to make sure you frame them within a broader picture of your company’s overall goals for improving safety.

Share your vision for an improved safety culture with your employees and let them know this is why you plan to emphasize new safety strategies. If employees don’t understand the why behind training or other objectives, they’re less likely to be supportive and engage. If you have a specific goal in mind for how many work-related injuries or illnesses you want to eliminate, for instance, share this goal with employees so they can rally around it.

3. Share Real-Life Examples: One of the best tips to motivating employees to work safely is to provide real-life examples. It’s OK to share stories of fatal or severe injuries or illnesses that resulted from unsafe practices. However, your overall strategy shouldn’t be to scare your employees into submission or to deride them for their current shortcomings. Rather than focus on negative examples, try highlighting success stories.

You may need to pull these success stories from other companies, and that’s completely fine. Try to find concrete examples that show demonstrable results from a concentrated effort to improve safety. How many accidents was the company able to eliminate on average? Real-life examples and success stories, in particular, can help inspire your employees and remind them positive change is always within reach.

4. Involve Employees and Reward Their Efforts: A great way to get buy-in from your employees is to involve them in your efforts to improve your company’s safety culture. Ask them for ideas as you plan. You can also create focus groups of employees at various levels and areas of your organization to get more in-depth perspectives on why they take risks and what’s lacking in your current safety culture.

Check Out: How to Set Goals for Safety Performance

Another way to engage employees is with positive reinforcement. When you see employees taking positive steps to adopt better safety practices, or when you overhear an authentic conversation about safety, find ways to reward their efforts. The simplest and perhaps most effective way is through verbal praise. Let them know how much you appreciate them doing their part to elevate the safety culture across your organization.

5. Lead by Example: To change the culture among your employees, you and the rest of senior and mid-level management must demonstrate the values and beliefs you want your employees to adopt. If you don’t have buy-in from management, you can’t expect your company’s safety culture to improve. It starts at the top and should trickle down from there. You want positive safety practices to become contagious and catch on across all areas and levels of your organization.

As we saw earlier, one of the reasons employees cut corners when it comes to safety is because they don’t believe it’s a priority for their superiors. They may feel getting the job done quickly is more important, for example. Make sure your employees know safety takes precedence over speed or anything else. You can put your money where your mouth is by investing in things like safety training programs, better personal protective equipment or more eye-catching signage.

6. Investigate Safety Incidents More Thoroughly: If a safety incident occurs, you should investigate it thoroughly to get to the bottom of what caused the problem. Examining issues in-depth may reveal underlying problems you can remedy. For example, you may find workers should have more protection when working in a specific area, or you may discover you need to fix a tripping hazard on the floor. In addition to committing to more detailed investigations of safety incidents, you should also commit to taking employee feedback about safety more seriously.

Learn more about Incident Investigation

Ask employees to submit reports of any safety hazards they encounter and to be forthcoming about accidents that occur. When you receive reports of possible risks, even if you don’t agree, take time to investigate them and see if you can do anything to remedy them. Remember, employees who are working on the factory floor, in the lab or at the construction site may know more about the dangers they face daily than you do, so trust their input.

7. Choose the Best Training Courses: The first question for many organizations aiming to improve workplace safety is, “What training program should I use?” Before you devote all your focus to answering this question, remember even the best training course may fall on deaf ears if your employees don’t prioritize safety or don’t see the need for training. That’s why working to elevate the whole safety culture is so critical. That said, one concern you’ll likely have when it comes to a training course is the logistics of it all.

Check Out: How to Put Together a Workplace Safety Training Workshop

The idea of gathering all your employees into a room and hiring someone to conduct training may seem like a daunting task — especially if your employees are across multiple locations or work different schedules. Online training solves this problem, as each worker can do it at a time and place that’s convenient for them. Giving employees more autonomy over their required training may help them feel more in control, rather than feeling frustrated by a mandatory lecture series. Look for online workplace safety courses that offer a corporate discount.

8. Prioritize Ongoing Training: Training is essential, but bad habits can still take over when workers’ hyper-awareness of safety wears off. That’s why training can’t be a one-off occurrence. OSHA requires employers to make sure their workers receive annual health and safety training. Don’t view this requirement as a burden. If you do, so will your employees. Instead, embrace it as a much-needed opportunity to reaffirm your ongoing commitment to safety, to remind employees of safety practices and to update them on new developments.

Check Out: 10 Reasons Why Safety Training is often Ineffective

You may also want to encourage or even require employees who work in particular areas to complete specialized training that addresses the dangers of their work more specifically than your generalized training might. Online training is an excellent option here. For example, if some of your employees work in a confined space, they should take a course dedicated to safety in this environment. If they lift heavy objects, they should take a course on back injury prevention and safe lifting techniques.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to enjoy their job and stay injury-free. When it comes to attracting and retaining quality employees, employee safety and engagement matters. For companies facing high turnover and injury rates, emphasizing injury prevention through a sustained safety program can strengthen the safety culture as a whole and inevitably have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line.


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