In an ideal world, OHS professionals would set workplace safety policy and everyone, from the CEO down to the floor, would embrace workplace safety rules with open arms. If you're a safety manager, we can bet that your scenario looks a little different. Staff often take some convincing to change their ways, even in the name of employee safety.
One of your key allies in enforcing workplace safety rules is the floor manager. As a supervisor, he or she works directly with employees and is in the best position to observe any difference between policy and practice. And no matter how much experience you have, being everywhere at once isn't one of your superpowers. One safety manager we interviewed confided that floor supervisors, in their leadership positions, can "make or break" any safety policy. It makes sense, then, to get them onboard with workplace health and safety rules. It makes sense, but it isn't always easy.
Different Focus, Same Priority
People are creatures of habit, and new habits are hard to develop. As a safety manager, you've researched policy changes, done trials on safety equipment and kept on top of industry standards. So when you introduce a new policy, you're confident that it's a step forward. Your floor supervisors might not feel the same way. If they haven't witnessed the background work that goes into a safety plan, any change might feel like an arbitrary interruption to their well-developed workflow. It feels like your priorities are at odds. Remember, though, it's not that floor managers hate safety, it's simply that their focus is on production.
So how do you overcome this difference in focus? First, recognize the value of the floor supervisors' work. Someone needs to keep production going. Second, emphasize that your priorities are not at odds since workplace accidents halt production. Take the time to understand the workflow before enforcing new safe work practices and, together with your supervisors, you're more likely to find effective ways to introduce change.
Focus on Safety
When you do announce new workplace safety rules, put the emphasis on 'safety' rather than on rules. Think about it: who likes to hear that the list of rules just got longer? How much more welcoming is the idea that you'll be safer at work? This distinction may sound frivolous, but words matter. If they didn't, the advertising industry wouldn't exist. Instead of buying an escape, a luxury or a return to youth, you'd just be buying a car. So when you introduce new rules, keep your focus on safety at work.
Workplace Safety Rules: Build on Existing Habits
A helpful way to think about new workplace safety rules is to view them as habits. Every worker already has habits. These are the processes we do without thinking about them because we've repeated them so many times that they're unconscious. The trick is to understand the existing habits, then alter them slightly to add a new action. For a fantastic in-depth discussion of habits, read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit.
Change comes slowly, and it's best to introduce one change at a time. This allows you to measure the success of each step and alter your strategy, if necessary, before moving on to the next. A slow and steady approach may feel cumbersome at first, but it's more likely to work if it's done strategically. And the reward—a healthy workplace safety culture—is well worth it.