It's true what they say: change is the only constant, but humans have a strange relationship with change. Even as we push to improve quality, safety and profit, we resist any move away from the familiar. As a safety officer, one of your top goals is reducing injuries. That means keeping on top of safe work practices and introducing new procedures and equipment to mitigate workplace hazards. As you guide employee safety, you will introduce change that staff members are likely to resist. How can you implement safe work practices –from procedures to new safety equipment – successfully?
Safe Work Practices: Sell 'Em Like You Mean It
In a way, you have to take on the role of a salesperson: you're trying to get others to adopt a new method. Thinking in terms of "selling" your idea will help you frame the process in your mind and get "buy-in" from your employees or managers. The following tips will help you plan for, introduce and implement changes such as safer work practices and better safety equipment.
Selling a new safety tool or idea takes a bit of strategy up front. As with any project, you need to figure out your risks, goals, where you're flexible and where you're putting your stake in the ground. Anticipate, whenever possible, the objections your staff will have, and prepare to address them by both validating the concerns and emphasizing the benefits of the change. A bit of planning means you'll be better equipped to address objections head on, making it easier to get buy-in.
Timing is one of the most crucial aspects of planning. For example, you don't want to set up a safety presentation on a Friday to introduce a new piece of equipment on a Monday. Over the weekend, workers will forget the important points you've made in your carefully prepared presentation. By the same token, choosing a stressful time to introduce a new safe work practice practically guarantees that implementation will be a bumpy road. If you know that a particular stage of the production cycle is stressful, avoid that time and introduce change when things settle down a bit.
Chances are that people will have questions about the new product or procedure. The more radical the change, the more questions there will be. The best way to prepare is to become a subject matter expert about what you're proposing. Is it a new piece of safety equipment? Learn everything you can about it: what research shows it to be safer? What tasks is it designed for (and not designed for)? Learn the technique needed to use the new equipment. Introducing a new safety procedure? Know the research inside and out so you can prove to skeptical staff that it will improve employee safety.
Keep in mind that your role is different from your employees' roles, and gear your safety presentation towards them and their goals. For example, it's your job to lower overall costs, as well as ensure safety. But their primary goal might be keeping up with a demanding production schedule. Cost savings isn't a compelling argument for this case, but you can bet they'll be engaged when this new equipment affects their speed. Learn their goals, anticipate their needs and present to them in a way that shows them how safety aligns with their goals.
Don't forget to evaluate the changes' effects once they've been implemented. You will always have early adopters, keen to try new safe work procedures, and late adopters, who prefer to wait and see. Sometimes the effect of a change is hard to see from a single person's point of view. Schedule a follow-up safety presentation to share the 'bird's-eye view'. Show improvement in safety numbers or prove that production schedules are benefitting from the new procedure. Help late adopters get on board by sharing the whole safety culture picture with them.
Most importantly, be patient. We humans don't like change, even when it's a benefit to our lives. Knowing that change is a process that takes a bit of time to happen will help you weather its ups and downs. When it comes to safety at work, it's worth the effort.