When it comes to workplace safety, one injury is one too many. So hearing something from the Bureau of Labor Statistics such as “a total of 4,836 workers died from a work-related injury in the U.S. in 2015, the highest annual figure since 2008,” is alarming.
Couple that with the 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses that occur each year, and it’s clear that there’s room for improvement when it comes to creating a safe workplace environment.
And it starts with understanding the mindset of your employees.
Let’s take, for example, a typical workplace environment. In a normal workplace setting, it’s not uncommon for safety to take on a “do it for your own good” approach. This approach is usually reinforced through safety videos and reminders by supervisors of what to do (and what not to do) in any given setting.
Either way, the message is pretty clear: If you don’t follow safety precautions, you risk getting hurt … or worse.
And here is where the disconnect occurs…most people are confident in their own ability to stay safe. It’s human nature. How many people text and drive despite knowing the dangers? We do it because we all suffer, to a certain extent, from an invincibility complex.
If your workers mistakenly think they’re safe (because serious injuries couldn’t possibly happen to them!) then it becomes extremely difficult to motivate them to take specific safety precautions.
One of the most powerful motivators in safety is other people
Psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant conducted a study that examined the productivity and motivation of fundraisers. He looked at a group whose job was to solicit donations for school scholarships. What he discovered was, after the callers heard the first-hand account of a student who benefited from the scholarship, these callers spent 142% more time on calls. As a result, revenues increased 171%. They were motivated by this singular student.
Grant then conducted a study with doctors and nurses. He discovered that these medical professionals used 45% more soap while washing their hands after seeing a sign that reminded them of how proper hygiene positively impacted patient health.
In other words, they were motivated by the welfare of others, not themselves.
Here’s how that ties into safety.
In the book Inside Out: Rethinking Traditional Safety Management Paradigms, Larry Wilson and Gary Higbee discuss a safety training session they had with postal worker trainees.
The trainees were stubborn. They didn’t want to listen to the safety lessons that would clearly impact their long-term health.
But, when Wilson and Higbee demonstrated how the training could help improve the safety of the postal workers’ children, the tone of the room shifted. These previously disengaged trainees were now attentive. They were invested.
They were motivated by the safety of others, more specifically, others who were important in their lives.
How do you use this motivation to improve workplace safety?
People have a natural concern for others. Using that to increase your own workplace safety doesn’t have to be complex. It could be as simple and straightforward as showing how an error in judgment could negatively impact coworkers.
It could also be celebrating when one employee shows care for another.
Positive reinforcement that focuses on one’s abilities has been shown to improve overall performance. Encouraging someone to be a positive role model through demonstrating good safety behavior for others could serve two purposes: to improve workplace safety and productivity.
Plus, when your employees are trained to look out for other people’s safety, it reminds them about their own safety. If one of your workers notices a colleague incorrectly lift a heavy box, he can’t help but think of his own safety.
In other words, this type of environment helps bring safety top of mind.
As you look to improve your own workplace safety, consider shifting your approach. Rather than reminding employees of their own personal risks, turn them into crusaders on a mission to keep others around them safe.
You’ll build a community of invested, productive, and safe workers.