Part 2: Now Let’s Find Out Why Employees Make Those Bad Choices

A few days ago, I ended my analysis of “why workers choose to get injured or killed,” by proposing that as a possible first step to learn the answer, employers should determine their unique safety “culture.”  Attorneys like us can analyze an employer’s safety management processes, but an often overlooked tool is to conduct an employee safety attitude survey.



1.         Expect to be surprised and probably troubled by results.

2.         Supervisor answers usually differ markedly from employee perceptions.

3.         Any time one surveys employees, you create an “expectation,” so don’t set the   survey results on a shelf and forget about it.

4.         In determining your existing culture – you may be startled by what you learn.

  • As an example, 93% of construction employees in one survey said that their Company was currently at risk of an injury or death caused by one of five (5) avoidable workplace behaviors….
  • “Get it Done”
  • “Un-discussable Incompetence”
  • “Just this Once”
  • “This is overboard”
  • “Are you a team player”
  • And 50% said that they had already seen an injury or death caused by one of the above five issues….
  • Even more troubling, despite these concerns, only 25% of the employees surveyed said that they would confront a co worker acting unsafely or speak up about a hazard.  In other words, only one in four would tell a coworker to put on their fall protection!  Even after expressing their fear that they or their co-workers were at risk of serious injury.  And I’ve seen this all too often.  Why? 

 So let’s find out … review the “Sample Survey Questions,” and ask yourself…

  • How would your employees answer some of the following questions?
  • How would you and other managers answer these questions?
  • Would you be willing to bet a steak dinner that the answers are the same for both groups? 

 Sample Questions  (Answer by: “Agree/Disagree/Strongly Agree/Strongly Disagree”)

  • We practice on the job what is in our Corporate Safety Policy.
  • I always receive job-specific training.
  • Supervisors hold us to safety rules.
  • Contractors on site work safely.
  • All of our people are trained before they start work.
  • We talk about safety at every meeting.
  • I hold coworkers accountable for safety.
  • Safety is the number one priority in my mind when working each day.
  • Management clearly considers the safety of employees of great importance.
  • I am sure that it is only a matter of time until I am involved in an accident.
  • Sometimes I am not given enough time to get the job done safely.
  • I am involved with safety issues at work.
  • This is a safer place to work than other companies where I have worked.
  • I am strongly encouraged to report unsafe conditions or near misses.
  • At my site, management turns a blind eye to safety issues at times.
  • Some safety rules and procedures do not need to be followed to get the job done safely.
  • Some safety rules and procedures are not really practical.
  • It is necessary to let safety slide a little in real life.
  • Safety is one of the first things upper management talks about when they come on site.
  • Upper management seldom comes on the floor.
  • Upper management is involved in safety training.
  • Upper management is involved in new employee orientation.
  • Our safety record is one of the top two things to owners.
  • Upper Management often mentions safety in company communications.

 Employee attitudes and “culture” will not change merely by utilizing consultants and all of the  new and cool emerging safety ideas.  Management must really decide to make safety a priority, set specific goals, use financial incentives/disincentives for managers, come with ideas to engage employees, and then keep on it.  Changing reporting relationships so that the chief company safety manager reports directly to the CEO or COO is an important symbolic and practical step… but what will leadership do next week?  Next month?

Continuous Quality Improvement in safety processes is just another way of saying that a safety plan can never stay the same – employees lose their attention and everyone becomes nonchalant (remember my last post about unwise choices?).

 Safety guru, James Roughton posted an article today by Terry Mathis, entitled,  There Is No Stasis In Safety: Safety Culture Excellence, which does a fine job of explaining that one has to keep trying new things and keeping the program fresh.  I’ll end with a quotation from their article:

 There are two strategies in safety that don’t work; one is doing nothing and the other is trying to maintain the status quo.  The sad truth is that safety is constantly either getting better or getting worse. 

 What do you think?

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
This entry was posted in construction, cultural changes, employee engagement, generational differences, management and leadership, reducing injuries, safety programs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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