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Do You Really Care?

As EHS professionals, we may scoff at first when a worker asks us, “Seriously, do you really care about what I’m doing?” But this question has a much deeper meaning than you may think.

In our day-to-day activities, much of the relationship building and many of the general discussions fall to skill-of-the-craft concepts. This means there is tremendous variability between individuals regarding how they approach and connect with people at a personal level. Many companies have abandoned engagement-based or team-based training due to budget restraints or a perceived lack of value, so there isn’t a consistent approach or even a dedicated effort to having engagement in the field. For many EHS professionals, unfortunately there is just not enough time to visit all the crews and field supervisors to build rapport. Consider this: When was the last time you saw a field engagement metric? Not many companies have them.

Do Rules Without Relationships Lead to Rebellion?
In the question directly above, I’m not using “rebellion” in the military or government sense of the word. I’m using it to refer to the more subtle nonconformance to EHS standards or maybe even a disregard for them since employees may not understand your expectations. When I have opportunities to engage frontline employees and supervisors, I usually spend 15-30 minutes talking about everything but the work task or effort at hand. We discuss local cuisine, hobbies, our families and cultures, and even the weather. Going to a job site once a quarter or even less often and trying to discuss work procedures or practices right off the bat is not ideal. This seems fairly apparent, but since we have no formal relationship-building classes at our EHS-degree colleges or even at most companies, building relationships on the job is wholly dependent on the existing skills you may or may not already have. Now, think about the complexity of an individual with all their varied experiences and skills. Not everyone is a natural when it comes to engaging others and holding conversations.

People Don’t Care What You Know – Until They Know You Care
If a stranger approached and asked you a favor – maybe they even requested money – how likely would you be to grant that favor? Statistically, your likelihood of doing so is slim. On the other hand, if someone you know asks for a favor, the probability that you will say yes shoots up dramatically. Now, let’s apply that to your job-site visits. Have you ever met the person you’re speaking with? Before today, have you ever participated with them in anything, safety or otherwise? Did you ask their name before you started talking? If the answer to all these questions is no, then your chance of effectively engaging with them in anything related to safety is quite low.

What Can I Do to Improve?
Each of us can start to improve by making safety a little more personal. I’m not talking about the slogan or feel-good statement you might like to use but rather the genuine, heartfelt effort needed to really engage with the people to whom you are speaking. That means you shouldn’t use a new policy, the company OSHA rate or a companywide stand-down on improvements to kick off your relationship. Our workers are interested in knowing that you value them as a person, care about ensuring they make it home to their family (by the way, do you know the names of your employees’ significant others and children?), balance the importance of work and life in their daily approach, and maybe even share their same interest in a local sports team. Once you accomplish these things, you can truly start improving your engagement and performance.

Remember that one manager you had that you didn’t really like? Ask yourself, how much extra effort did you put in during their tenure? What about that manager you really did like? I bet your level of effort was different for that person. Let people know you care by inviting them to the table for discussions, not reprimands or clipboard walkdowns. This is when sustainable improvement can begin.

About the Author: John Fischer is the director of corporate EHS and environmental strategy for Duke Energy. Reach him at

John Fischer

About the Author: John Fischer is the director of corporate EHS and environmental strategy for Duke Energy. Reach him at