Most workplaces feature a set of ‘cardinal rules’ or ‘life-saving policies’ — a critical few requirements that have been proven to protect people from harm. I’d like to propose five ‘cardinal habits’ or ‘life-saving behaviors’ that create a safer workplace. Review this list of behaviors; I doubt any of these are new to you. But take a moment to consider how your organization promotes these behaviors. Are you getting the results you want?
  1. Connect. The single best way to ensure safety is to connect with people working around us — greet them, let them know what we’re up to, and ask what they’ll be doing. Not only does this reveal potential risks, it lowers the bar for people speaking up, asking questions and expressing concern.
  2. Ask. Before beginning any task, ask, “What could go wrong here? How could someone get hurt doing this? If something goes wrong, what will it be and what will we do?” Not only will this reveal gaps in the plan, it has us engage and focus before going to work.
  3. Focus. A key to creating a safe workplace is seeing our state-of-mind as a potential hazard. This means noticing when we feel confident, bored, distracted or in-a-hurry and taking a moment to pause, re-engage with the task at hand, and proceed with greater focus.
  4. Scan. It’s not enough to start a task with safety in mind — we must pause periodically to notice changes in our workplace, identify new hazards, and if necessary, connect / ask / focus anew.
  5. Speak-up. At the end of the day, we are fallible — we will overlook things, make assumptions and lose focus. Our only protection is each other — we are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. But this only works if we are willing and comfortable speaking up, expressing concerns and asking questions.
Many folks will say, “We do these! We require each worker to complete a pre-task hazard assessment form before going to work; we have pre-shift meetings to review safety concerns and we require folks to sign a roster indicating they are fit-for-work; we make our folks to fill out five hazard recognition cards each week.” But are you getting the results you want? These habits cannot be mandated. Requiring someone to complete a form or sign a roster doesn’t cause sincere effort. Having a rule that mandates an action does not cause genuine engagement. These habits must be cultivated: it’s up to us, as leaders, to model these behaviors and look for opportunities to encourage them in others. It’s up to us to demonstrate that what matters most is not compliance with the rules, but creating a workplace in which no-one gets hurt. Next-time: six habits for coaching safe behaviors.

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