Changing Beliefs About Safety.

Safety meeting topic – Changing Beliefs About Safety.

One of the most difficult hurdles I had to get over when I was working to improve the workplace safety at the Westvaco plant I once worked in was overcoming the idea among the maintenance men that getting hurt was expected. These men took great pride in their work and they were willing and felt it was expected of them to occasionally get hurt while performing their work duties. “No pain – no gain” was more than just a slogan to them – they took it very literally.

When I first started talking to them about leaving work in the same or better condition than they arrived, they looked at me like I was from Mars. They simply did not believe that they could do the jobs that they were called to do and not face occasional injury. They all had the deep seated belief that maintenance work was inherently dangerous and that if you did it long enough, you would get hurt.

Changing this belief became my first task toward improving the safety of the maintenance department.

The core of the belief change came from developing proper work instructions. Previous efforts that focused on PPE and accident prevention were seen as just annoyances to the maintenance workers. Their belief that they would get hurt anyway just made them resent the PPE and other accident prevention efforts.

I began by observing their work practices. When I saw them taking an unnecessary risk, I gently suggested a safer method. Often they would object that the alternative would take longer. When they realized that I was serious about using a safer method even if it took a little longer, they began to make better choices themselves.

I also assigned one of the more boisterous electricians the duty of developing workable lock out tag out procedures for each piece of equipment in the plant. He actually located every disconnect in the entire operation, numbered and labeled it and wrote instructions on how to properly de energize that piece of equipment. While tedious and time consuming to develop, these procedures became a key factor in changing the belief that getting hurt was inevitable.

Through the development of the LOTO procedures, we found that some equipment could not be easily locked out. Thankfully the Westvaco management backed up their words about commitment to safety with their dollars and paid to have some very expensive disconnects added to the printing presses so that they could be safely de energized for maintenance work as well as for operational changeovers.

Again, this very visual commitment from the management went a long way in instilling the belief that injuries were not to be expected from the maintenance group. Their belief system began to change as well as their unsupervised decision making process.

During our work planning sessions, we began to discuss the safest way of approaching a problem – not just the fastest or cheapest solution. We discussed potential hazards and made sure we had adequate safeguards in place to protect us from these hazards as we worked. We began to tell a new story.

Our new war stories were about how much we accomplished and how quickly we achieved our goal rather that who got hurt and how we worked through the pain.

The nature of maintenance and repair work makes it difficult to write specific procedures for each situation. After all, if the machine was working properly, we most likely would not be working on it. However, the general methodology of approaching a situation can be standardized.

Our lock out tag out procedures not only gave specific instructions on what switch to flip but also advised the workers on the other potential hazards of the machine and how to properly set up the repair procedures to minimize potential risk. They also let them know how to get the job done as quickly as possible.

Focusing on the work that needed to be done and developing specific work instructions for each machine allowed the workers to believe that they did not have to get hurt at work. Morale improved as did the number of repair work orders accomplished each month. Injuries went from about one a month to almost none in a year.

Telling a new story and altering the belief system of the workers accomplished way more in a few moths than years of focusing on PPE and accident prevention had done in the past.

For more info on improving the workplace safety of your plant, see

Safety Slogans for the Workplace

My favorite safety slogan has always been: I expect you to leave here with the same number of fingers and toes that you came in with. I always felt this one gets the point across.

My least favorite safety slogan for the workplace is Safety is our number one priority. If that were the case then why not just pay people to stay home. That would bring workplace injuries to zero in just one day. The company might not stay in business long, but, if workplace safety was the number one priority, that would not matter as long as people were safe.

So lets get real about safety slogans for the workplace. We want slogans that will make people think about safety. We want slogans that let people know we care. We need safety slogans that people will believe.

When attempting to inspire people to work more safely you need to consider both their motivations and yours. Typically as the employer you are interested in workplace safety either due to some government or corporate regulation or because you want to save money on workers comp claims. As an employee, you are interested in doing what is required to keep your job with the least effort that will produce acceptable results.

When choosing as safety slogan for your workplace, you need to consider what is relevant to your hazards. For example a safety slogan for a hospital would be very different from a metal stamping operation. Watch out for pricks. might work well one place and have a totally different meaning in the other.

One difficulty in choosing a good safety slogan for your workplace is making the statement in a positive manner. NPL practitioners have told us for years that the subconscious mind does not hear the negative. So, if our safety slogan is dont hurt your hand, all the subconscious mind hears is hurt your hand.

Also, what ever we think about tends to expand. So if our slogan causes us to think about hand injuries, we will have more hand injuries. We need safety slogans that promote a positive thought process.

Again back to our example of hand injuries. Keep your hands safe for the things you love to do would paint a positive image. Especially if printed over a picture of a cute puppy or something else that is pleasing to touch. In the hospital setting, you could have something like Keep your pricks covered. That might not be the best phrasing but you get the idea.

Coming up with a safety slogan is easy if you just take time to look around your workplace. Look at the behavior that you wish to reinforce. Put that in the slogan. Avoid vague statements like Safety Pays. Get specific in the behavior that you want more of.
Make your workplace safety slogans relevant, funny and to the point. Coming up with new safety topics and slogans does not have to be a chore. Just look around and you will see plenty of things to focus your efforts on. Hey, safety is no accident.

For more workplace safety tips, see

Free Safety Slogans?

Stupid ways to improve Workplace Safety.

I noticed that the most common search term associated with workplace safety is “free safety slogans.” Is this how most people are trying to improve work place safety? Probably.

When I worked in industry as a safety director, I was often told I needed to reduce injury rates and then not given any budget to work with. I was still able to reduce our TCIR from 24 to 3 over a three year period.

I still get irritated when I see companies trying to improve workplace safety by reacting to accidents and injuries. It really annoys me when I see employees blamed for getting hurt. Yes employees do stupid things sometimes, but they often have very good reasons for doing them.

When I first took over as Safety Director, I got a lot of experience in taking people to the hospital. We had about two injuries a month that required medical attention. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the waiting rooms with injured employees.

I found that they were always angry about something. They were either angry at a spouse, a friend, a relative or the company. But the injured employee was always angry about something. They never meant or expected to get hurt; they were always just trying to do their job the best they knew how. And they were then angry or guilty that they got hurt. And they knew that they would get more guilt added by their supervisor when they got back to work.

In her book You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay says that 95% of the time injuries are the result of anger or guilt. When an injury occurs it is the sub conscience’s way of getting attention to a feeling that is really not of benefit to the body.

To truly improve workplace safety, we don’t need to be looking for a new free safety slogan; we need to be looking at the root cause of accidents and injuries. We need to look at the state of repair of our equipment, the policies and procedures that are in place and the emotional state of our workers.

Many injuries are caused by employees being aggravated that the machines are not working properly. This aggravation may come from a design flow or simply wear in the machine. Often there is a disconnect between maintenance and production on what constitutes a well running machine. The maintenance worker may assume the machine is fine if it performs most of its basic functions. However, if the machine is not operating at its full potential, then the production worker may become aggravated at not being able to make its production goals.

Policies and procedures are critical in reducing work place injuries. As one free safety slogan says; “It is not enough to know safety, you must practice it.” If your policies are not being followed, then they are not worth the paper they are printed on. Policies and procedures are too often used to punish people rather than to promote correct employee behavior.

Work instructions and procedures must be written to instruct employees in the safest and most effective way to produce the highest quality product. If any of these elements are missing the procedure is ineffective. If employees are not following the procedures, they you must find out why and correct the issue or the procedure. See my article on why written procedures are important for more information on this subject.

The most important single factor in reducing accidents and improving workplace safety is creating a positive emotional environment for employees to work. Happy workers will produce more products at higher quality levels and they will not get hurt as often.

There are many factors that influence the emotional well being of employees. Having to deal with stupid free safety slogans is probably one of them. Every time they look at a sign with a safety slogan and them look back at the job they are asked to do they either see that you care about their safety or you care about looking good on a spread sheet.

So instead of looking for new safety slogans, let’s start looking at how we can reduce the aggravation level of our employees. How can we make their work environment more conductive to making good product? How can we better educate them in the right ways to do a job? How can we better reward them for good behavior instead of providing hidden rewards for taking short cuts?

When we start to focus our workplace safety energy and resource to creating a better work place environment, we will be able to stop focusing on accident prevention and injury response. Lets all work together to find ways to improve the emotional environment of the workplace and stop looking for stupid free safety slogans.

Have a safe and productive day! How’s that for a free safety slogan?

link: Occupational Health & Safety

[phpbay]safety slogan, 10[/phpbay]