Sustainability: Creating Lasting Safety Improvements
Updated: Jul 18
Improving safety is a challenging endeavor, but making those improvements sustainable is an even greater task. All too often, the gains we make today slip away due to competing priorities, forgotten commitments, or the overwhelming demands of daily life and work. It often feels like we're pushing a heavy weight uphill, only to have it slide back every time we let up. However, there are several simple techniques that can help prolong the effects of our safety efforts, reducing the need to start over or backtrack. These sustainability techniques not only enhance the longevity of safety improvements but also boost their effectiveness. Let's explore four successful techniques for achieving sustainable safety gains.
Making Communication Sticky
Have you ever shared a safety message only to find that hardly anyone remembers it when asked? Or perhaps you've instructed someone on the correct way to perform a task, only to see them quickly revert to their old habits? Workers often struggle to recall the details of safety meetings or important incidents when questioned.
In a recent safety assessment, workers were asked about the most common types of accidents. Surprisingly, many were unable to answer or provided incorrect responses.
Despite being exposed to detailed accident reports, they hadn't mentally absorbed the most frequently occurring accident types. As a result, their safety efforts lacked focus, leaving them vulnerable to the accidents most likely to occur. Organizations with excellent safety records not only identify accident types but also emphasize the worker precautions most effective in preventing those accidents. By improving the communication of accident data, organizations can significantly enhance worker attention to the most impactful accident prevention strategies.
Making Training Behavioral
Have you ever conducted a training session only to find that, upon visiting the shop floor, workers weren't implementing the newly learned techniques? Or perhaps you've cringed when workers struggled to recall training objectives or regulations covered in their training. In many interviews, workers can rarely articulate the objectives of the training they attended.
Numerous training modules lack clear objectives, while others set objectives using vague terms like "learn," "understand," or "appreciate." To ensure sustainability, all training should incorporate behavioral objectives and standards. For instance, an objective could be defined as "attendee will be able to perform (task) to the level of (standard of performance) by (target date)." Training focused on behavioral outcomes is more likely to result in action. It is also easier to track and measure its effectiveness in terms of workplace performance.
Even regulatory-required yearly refreshers, such as those mandated by OSHA, can be tailored to address specific areas for improvement. Behavioral training is more engaging and memorable, allowing for practice in a classroom setting that directly translates to real-world application in the shop or field. By using behavioral objectives, training can be precisely targeted to address workplace tasks and realities. Workers do not need to translate theoretical knowledge from the classroom to the workplace, resulting in easier and more comprehensive transfer of training.
Adding Expectations to Roles and Responsibilities
Have you ever encountered individuals who defend their lack of results by referencing their roles and responsibilities, claiming that they merely went through the motions? Do you wonder why some individuals lose their results-oriented mindset? Are there people in your organization who confuse effort with actual results?
Organizations often define specific roles and responsibilities (R&Rs) for workers in the realm of safety. Clearly outlining the expected job functions (roles) and required actions (responsibilities) helps define workplace behavior and eliminate ambiguity. However, R&Rs often lack an essential element: results orientation. By adding "expectations" to R&Rs, or RREs, organizations can ensure that this crucial aspect is not overlooked.
Expectations connect desired results with targeted actions. With RREs, workers understand not only what they need to do but also what their actions should achieve. When expectations are not met, it becomes necessary to reassess how individuals approach their roles. Mere compliance without producing the desired results is no longer acceptable. This shift from activity-focused to results-focused behavior generates positive change and accountability.
Keeping Change Bite-Sized
Have you ever initiated an improvement project, hoping that people would be excited about the planning and potential, only to find that they became demotivated and overwhelmed? Have you ever assessed the results of a change initiative and discovered that only a fraction of it was heading in the right direction?
Initiatives can often fail because they attempt to change too much too quickly. Breaking down change into smaller, more manageable components is often the key to success. Smaller changes are easier to comprehend, accept, and implement. Reducing the magnitude of change also minimizes resistance and the feeling of overload. Moreover, smaller changes provide quick wins and build momentum. Even massive change efforts that require change management professionals can be divided into bite-sized pieces to be more easily embraced by the entire organization. Remember the saying about eating an elephant? One bite at a time!
Improving safety demands substantial effort, and it's disheartening when that effort fails to yield lasting results. Among the numerous techniques available for achieving sustainable safety improvements, these four stand out as highly effective. By implementing these techniques, you can enhance communication