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Keeping safe is about speaking up

December 15, 2022
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Ensuring employees go home unharmed at the end of a workday is the highest priority a company can have. This is especially important in the construction industry, where many hazards exist. As Jonathan Soper, SMS Equipment's General Manager of OHSE, points out, safety is not a matter of enforcing rules but instilling a culture where preventing incidents is integral to how people work together. In this edition of Experts' Corner, Jonathan shares some tips for creating a culture in your organization that gives safety the priority it deserves.

Tip 1: Don’t put safety in a box.

"Safety" has become very specific regarding protective equipment, regulations, and best practices. However, for safety to really take hold in an organization, it needs to be understood and presented as something inseparable from how business is conducted.
Jonathan: I avoid using the word "safety" because this is about our culture, period. It's about having a culture that speaks up. That means people are free to have candid discussions about anything involved with their work and feel psychologically safe having those discussions. We want a culture where people are willing to come up with an idea or recognize an "unsafe act or condition" and not think they will be looked down upon or ridiculed. So, if anyone on my team mentions safety culture, I say, "remove safety – this is our culture, the way that we do business." 

Many team members wear a badge that says, "I'm here to create a culture to speak up. Ask me how." 

Tip 2: Encourage people to share concerns with their co-workers.

Keeping safe isn't just between each worker and their supervisor – it's about everyone communicating openly and looking after one another. 
Jonathan: One of the things about the culture we promote is the worker-to-worker discussions. I want a worker to say to a co-worker, "I saw someone doing "that," and they were injured." 

People don't come to work to do things wrong and get into an incident. If that happens, something has failed within our system that allowed a person to believe this was the correct behaviour. Our team can't be everywhere to intervene, but we have a resource: our workers. So, we want to fire up our workers, so they'll feel that intervening and having these one-on-one discussions with their peers is the right thing to do. 

The point is, this is personal. It affects people beyond the workplace, so it's really about caring. And that, of course, builds stronger teams in the long run. 


Positive observation or Reinforcement
Steve Colbourne, Heavy Equipment Technician, observed Kevin Williams, Heavy Equipment Technician, explaining a job in full detail to a new team member. This proactive safety behaviour wasn’t the first time Kevin displayed his peer leadership skills. Multiple times, he has been observed providing step-by-step coaching on the Stop and Think “SAT” card. We promote these types of positive observations to ensure we set our new employees up for success and celebrate Kevin’s engagement in helping to keep everyone safe.

Tip 3: Catch somebody doing something right.

If safety is only about bringing out wrong behaviours, that doesn't make for a positive relationship, nor does it exemplify the right behaviours. 
Jonathan: We've found that it's imperative to speak up not just when somebody's doing something wrong but when they're doing something right. There's nothing better than a positive affirmation that you are doing things right, and it's important to share best practices. We often bring positive examples up in our daily toolbox meetings. Maybe somebody had all the hoses properly lined up before starting a job. When these become familiar, that becomes the expected behaviour.

Behaviours that prevent incidents are valuable leading indicators, so we track those. Every month, we look at thousands of examples and select the top three in the company. We recognize the people responsible for displaying leading indicators as proactive safety champions of the month. 

Tip 4: Technology can help.

Keeping people safe is one of the most powerful aspects of the technology that drives Industry 4.0. These tools can be a valuable contribution to construction sites. 
Jonathan: These proximity warning devices are fantastic – they're probably one of the best things to help people when distracted. The problem is, we see more and more distractions in the workplace, and you can't take away all the blind spots in the equipment. So, having a wearable device that sounds an alarm when you're getting near a hazard is improving things. 

Many construction sites now use Intelligent equipment that alleviates people from working in trenches and are becoming quite common. Another development is machines that operate autonomously. They reduce human interaction, also removing people from harm's way. 

Tip 5: You don’t need a safety department to keep people safe.

Safety, however, involves a way of working that can be applied to small and large companies. Small companies are sometimes discouraged by the extent of safety resources that large companies have at their disposal.
Jonathan:  People think safety is a significant expense compounded with many resources, but it doesn't cost money to show you care. It doesn't cost money to listen to a person if they have a concern and show them that it's important to you that they go home in the same condition that they came to work. 

If your company has ten workers, tell the five experienced ones, "I want you to look after the three new people," and tell the new people, "I expect you to ask questions." Workers have often been conditioned to believe that asking questions means they don't know their job. 

We've done some safety presentations for our smaller customers to share our practices and help them understand that you don't need a team of experts to keep your workers safe.

Bottom Line:

While safety is codified in legislation, the key to keeping workers safe is getting beyond compliance and creating a work culture where no one is afraid to intervene when they see something that could lead to an injury. Some experts say that workers need to have the courage to speak up. At SMS Equipment, we say you shouldn't need the courage to speak up – it should just be a natural part of how we work together.  It's been a great learning experience for everybody and something we plan to do more. 

It is everyone’s DUTY and OBLIGATION to look out for your fellow workers. YOU have the AUTHORITY to stop work until it is safe, without repercussion.

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