Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” So, why is it that so many companies conduct the same safety training year after year, yet see very little difference when it comes to improving their safety performance? I know that’s not always the case. However, when you consider the amount of time, money, and effort spent on reducing incidents and injury rates, one would expect to see better results.
There are two main reasons we fail to see the type of improvement we desire:
1) We are not getting to the root cause of why incidents occur
Each and every person is “wired” differently. That is what makes us all unique individuals. What I consider to be risky behavior, you might not. With that as the baseline, how can a one-size-fits-all safety training program address the needs of every individual?
Personal safety is as unique as our DNA. That’s why one person sees no problem with running through a yellow light at a busy intersection, whereas someone else would never even think about doing that.
In fact, when it comes to defining safe behavior, there is a fairly wide range of what individuals consider safe. Why? Because we all have different characteristics and experiences that shape how we see risk. One way to phrase it is that we each have our own “SafetyDNA”.
To illustrate using the driving example above, some of us naturally prefer to drive fast while others prefer the slow traffic lane. Some people notice every little sign, building, and landmark that they drive past, while others barely remember how they got from Point A to Point B, much less the stuff along the way. You probably know people who fit into each of these examples.
These examples seem harmless enough, but when you think about them in the context of workplace safety, they can make a big difference. That same risk-taking trait that makes me want to drive faster than others could easily cause me to not wear my safety glasses while I am using a grinder because they are uncomfortable and it will take me too long to go get them.
Similarly, the lack of awareness I have while driving could also put me in danger on the job if I don’t notice a lock-out tag on a piece of equipment. Both of these traits are part of a person’s SafetyDNA. And while being “lower” on these traits is not a bad thing, it can certainly put you at risk in certain situations.
Many work-related injuries can be traced back to a person’s SafetyDNA, and the fact that some people always put themselves more at risk than others. Unfortunately, we seldom take this into consideration and thus fail to get to the root of why these incidents occur.
2) We fail to come up with a simple action plan that is easy to follow
Like most things in life, the simpler you can keep things, the better. Often times we get so bogged down in the details, that we forget what’s really important.
Here’s a great example, if you’re a golfer you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s say you’ve been golfing all season, but still aren’t hitting the ball well. You’re hooking it, slicing it, basically hitting it everywhere but straight. So you start analyzing your swing, people start giving you advice, and you go to a pro for a lesson.
After this, you’re thinking about every part of your swing and more often than not you’re not hitting the ball any better than you were before all the advice. Why? Instead of one or two simple things to work on, you took on a dozen different lessons and techniques at once. If you had just kept it simple and worked on one or two things, however, you would probably have seen better results. The same holds true with safety. As a wise person once said, “keep it simple.”
If every employee could simply identify a few specific behaviors to focus on based on their SafetyDNA, and then put together a clear plan for how to do these consistently, it could go a long way. But too often with safety programs, there are dozens of initiatives going on at once, and long lists of things to memorize.
These may be important, but by keeping it simple and by focusing on the behaviors that put you (and I mean YOU, specifically) in the most danger, it can become much easier to achieve true behavioral change.