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Occupational Safety Requires Courage!

Occupational Safety Requires Courage!

After more than 2 months working from home due to international lock-down measures, I was finally able to resume on-site work a few weeks ago. A site visit last week made me reflect on the tremendous impact that the novel Coronavirus has on our daily lives and its connection to behaviour change in safety.

I was at a small subsidiary company of one of our major international partners in France. At the end of the day, as I was reviewing my findings and discussing them with the management team, the managing director made an interesting comment. He said: "I can't even count how much time and energy we spent over years to enforce specific safety rules, like wearing long sleeves for the job, to only mention one. Now this virus is there, and everyone is fully complying and even exceeding expectations regarding face-masks and distancing. It worked like magic and I've never seen such a quick change in behaviour before!".
The discussion that followed this spontaneous outburst of the managing director was amazing. It made everyone around the table realize that some specific things need to happen when culture in organizations is being shifted towards interdependence and caring for each other - the greatest drivers for (safety/team) performance.

1. Awareness. The virus is there. Everyone knows it. It is dangerous, it is invisible. If it doesn't kill or make me sick, maybe it could harm my family, my relatives, my friends, my colleagues. Paradoxically, and contrary to many visible hazards in workplace safety, the awareness factor is extremely high, even though we are dealing with an invisible hazard.

2. Relatedness. We are all in this together and the virus makes no relevant distinction between age, gender or ethnicity. It can infect everyone, only the consequences will be different. Conversely, we only can win the fight all together by protecting the most vulnerable ones among us and each other.

3. Sensible rules and trust. The distancing measures, face-masks / shields and regular handwashing make sense and are applied when they really can be. Also, people are trusted to do the right thing.

4. Constant communication and involvement. When resuming work after the lock-down, the management team spent quite some time with every team to explain the new procedures, answer questions and listen to doubts and worries. In addition to being very instructive, this simple step brought confidence and reassurance into the teams. One worker said: "I even feel safer here coming to work than shopping or walking around in the street."

5. Leaders that are committed and lead by example. Nothing to add there, because everyone around the table was aware that this element missing would lead to unsustainable behaviour change.
At the end of the discussion, everyone around the table agreed that solidarity and team spirit had never been higher than now. Everyone's motivation to catch up on the losses incurred during the lock-down was very high and productivity, quality and customer satisfaction targets were consistently exceeded. All while staying safe, both from the virus and other workplace hazards.

The logical consequence: "Let's be sustainable now and use this positive energy to change behaviours in safety. We see that it is possible. We only need to put in the effort now for a great benefit at the end."
I drove home very happy that day, because I could once more experience how positive change is happening. Many times one step at a time. But sometimes also all at once.
Final question to my readers: What is your experience with behaviour change? How to kick start it? How to sustain it?

Richard Fischer
MA Social Science, MA Law,
Manager for Occupational Safety
Institute Bruno Schmaeling Consulting Group

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