By: Brian J. Riker
As first published in Tow Industry Week by American Towman Media on February 18, 2018
We all want to go home at the end of the day and are aware of the dangers faced daily in our chosen profession. These are indisputable facts. So why is it that I see questionable —even outright deadly — behaviors daily. During a recent trip to the grocery store I happened upon a local tower with more than 40 years in the business, someone I have known all my life, loading a vehicle on a blind curve with no lighting, no warning, or even any PPE all while standing over the fog line on the traffic side. Worse still, he had the customers standing right next to him in the roadway!
So why do we still see events like this daily? Safety has been spoken about ad nauseum but the message is not getting through. As it turns out it isn’t the message but rather how we deliver that message that is broken. A worker that has done something the same way without incident their entire career is reluctant to change. No one wants to be nagged about anything. Let’s face it, most of our safety talks come off as nagging. According to John Drebinger, author of Would You Watch Out For My Safety? we need to retire the “safety police”. We are resistant to the gotcha approach to safety compliance, and instead respond much better when we want to be safe thus creating a culture of safety rather than a fear of reprimand. “When people want to do something, they’ll do it whether somebody’s watching or not,” Drebinger said. “If people are doing it because it’s a regulation or a rule, they’ll do it when they’re being watched or they think someone will know. That whole mentality is about catching people, and it’s not economically feasible to have enough people going around catching others doing unsafe things.”
First and foremost as business owners and managers we need to lead by example. Our team will imitate the behaviors they see demonstrated daily, meaning that if you lecture about safety in the morning then question why they took so long to complete a task in the afternoon they will have received a mixed message. Further, with working owners and managers it is imperative that you take the time to do it right every time. This includes proper equipment inspection at the start of a trip, following all company policies throughout the job and modeling the behaviors you want your team to display.
I am a firm believer in “see something say something”. This approach goes both ways, if you catch good behavior it is just as important, if not more important, to immediately recognize and comment on their actions. With unsafe behaviors it is also important to react immediately, keeping in mind that you react differently to perceived danger. This means you must chose your words and body language carefully so as not to come off as irate, irrational or unjustified. When you see a dangerous behavior respond with exactly what was wrong, don’t just say “I observed you not following proper procedure” or “that is against the rules”. Instead, ask their opinion on why they are doing whatever it is they are doing, then explain why their actions are dangerous and offer a suggested corrective action. It is key to make it an open conversation — not a one-sided lecture — otherwise you will not have engagement nor will you have solved any problems. You will do more harm than good by creating resentment of the “safety police”.
None of this is meant to discourage the practice of daily pre-shift safety briefings or the required periodic safety training meetings. Instead ,I am just offering a different approach to the daily task of safety compliance management. It is extremely important to openly discuss not only safe working policies but why we have those policies. Why is they key component to an effective safety program.
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