Paradoxically, change is a permanent part of life. Yet it's no excuse for neglecting safety. Tune into your emotional responses to change and become a 'change agent' for safety in any environment.
Change is here to stay! Companies are merging, divesting, selling, and changing names. Unions and companies are in negotiations. There is pressure to produce more with less. All of this makes it a challenge for employees to focus on safety. Often employees think the company no longer cares about safety. But, who is the company?
A company is made up of its employees. Whether you are the CEO or a college intern, you are part of the company. As part of the company, you can care about safety by having a goal to go home every day without injury. In changing times, it is more important than ever to make personal responsibility for safety priority number one. Let's look at an example of how one person did that.
The company was going through a buy-out and the management team wanted everyone to reduce expenses. Cash was "king" and everyone was trying to do his or her part to save money. In this case, the employee, we'll call him Joe, inspected a forklift and found several things wrong that would take the machine out of service. On top of that, the cost of repairs was going to be over $1,500. A manager had to approve the expenditure. When Joe told the manager about the situation, the manager asked, "Can you just use the forklift like it is for the rest of the month?" Joe explained that according to the inspection sheet and the company's written work practices, the machine must be locked-out until repairs were made. As a result, the manager came out to the site and worked with Joe to solve the problem. Together they found they could use an idle forklift so that the work could progress. Everyone was a winner in this case.
In tough economic times people must pull together and safety must never take a back seat. This example shows us how we can do just that. Joe had the responsibility of performing an inspection of the forklift to make sure it was safe to use. The manager also had the dual responsibility to manage the budget and to provide a safe workplace. Every individual has roles and responsibilities for providing a safe environment.
THE PROCESS OF CHANGE
When things are changing around you, it is important that you understand how your role and responsibility on the job are changing. Change is an integral part of the world of business and it is often a good thing for a company over the long-haul. But it can be very difficult for an individual who does not understand his or her role. Change can be made easier if we understand more about the process of change.
The act of dealing with change is known as transition, according to Dr. William Bridges, a well-known researcher on culture change. In his research Bridges names three stages of transition in the change process. The first stage is Endings, the next stage is the Neutral Zone, and the third stage is New Beginnings. Knowing where you are in the change process can help you stay focused on safety.*
Change tends to be uncomfortable because our brains fail to recognize the environment we're in; when change is significant, our natural "fight or flight response" engages. A human being's natural instinct is to survive. When our environment is unfamiliar, we become defensive. We either want to run from it or fight to get the environment back to what it once was. These are not always productive responses.
You've probably heard the term "fear of the unknown." When we don't understand change or don't have control over it, we often feel a fear of the unknown. Fear produces anger.
When uncontrolled change is occurring around us, we are often fearful of what we will lose. This fear gets demonstrated in the form of anger. When we are angry, it is easy to lose our focus on safety.
KEEP YOUR SAFETY FOCUS AT CHAOTIC TIMES
When your company is going through union negotiations, realize that anger is near the door of the organization. The same is true when companies go through mergers, acquisitions or reorganizations. When you realize this, you can control your fear and consequently your anger, and safety can remain in focus.
You may have heard about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Dr. Maslow recognized that we all have basic needs that must be met before higher order needs can be achieved. He identified safety as a basic human need. Believe it or not, having a safe environment is one of your basic requirements for maintaining a positive mental attitude at work.
Keeping a positive mental attitude and focusing on safety during chaotic times can be challenging, but it is doable. Since you now know more about the change process and how it impacts us, you are up to the task!
CHAMPION FOR SAFETY
You can be a champion for safety, no matter what your job is. Here are some things you can do to champion safety during times of turbulence:
° Keep your personal focus on safety
° Make it a point to follow prescribed safe work practices
° Continue to learn more about safety in your industry and keep your skills honed
° Get involved in the safety process by volunteering to conduct a safety meeting or sit on a safety committee
° Look at your family and assure yourself that they want you to come home every day without injury
Keeping safety on the minds of everyone in the organization during changing times is difficult. It requires resources and commitment from everyone in the company. In changing times a safe work culture is important: OSHA requires it, management needs it, the workforce wants it, and families demand it. Let's all work together in these changing times to put safety first on our minds so everyone can go home every day without injuryvideo