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Developing a Strong Workplace Safety Mindset: Feeling Safe vs. Being Safe

How do you know that your employees feel safe?

It’s a great question, isn’t it?

While understanding legislation, compliance, systems, processes, risk assessments, etc., is fundamental to health and safety, understanding whether the people within your workplace genuinely feel safe is often overlooked or possibly misunderstood.

Humans have an intrinsic need for safety, a fundamental aspect of our existence that guides much of our behaviour and decision-making. This need for safety spans physical, emotional, and psychological areas, influencing where we live, work, and interact with our surroundings. However, there's an intriguing aspect of human psychology concerning safety: the tendency to assume safety in the absence of visible danger.

The Illusion of Safety

The human brain is wired to respond to immediate and apparent threats. This trait has been crucial for our survival as a species. Think of sabre tooth tigers eyeing you up as dinner. However, many dangers are not immediately visible or tangible. For example, risks such as faulty fire doors, the building is constructed of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, no fire-rated walls, floors, and doors, or long-term health risks from poor workplace ergonomics aren't always evident. This lack of visibility can create an illusion of safety, leading people to underestimate potential dangers.

The Role of Familiarity and Routine

Familiarity breeds content, comfort, and routine, reinforcing a sense of safety. When people engage in daily activities without encountering harm, a subconscious belief that these activities are inherently safe develops. This mindset can lead to complacency, where the absence of past harm is mistakenly equated with the absence of future risk.

Cognitive Biases and Risk Perception

Cognitive biases play a significant role in how we perceive risk. The normalcy bias, for instance, leads people to underestimate the possibility of a disaster occurring if they haven’t experienced it before. Similarly, the optimism bias can make people believe they are less likely to be affected by negative events compared to others. These biases can skew risk assessment and lead to under-preparation for potential dangers.

The Dangers of Invisible Risks

Invisible risks can be as harmful, if not more, than visible ones. For example, chronic stress in a seemingly safe work environment can lead to long-term health issues, or undetected structural weaknesses in a building can pose significant risks. The absence of immediate, visible danger does not equate to safety.

Educating and Raising Awareness

Education and awareness are key to combat the assumption of safety in the absence of visible threats. Everyone needs to be educated about the less obvious risks in their environment. Regular training, open discussions, and awareness campaigns can help bring these invisible risks to the forefront of people's consciousness.

Let’s explore some of the ideas that we have.

1. Open Communication Channels

Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns is vital. Regular town hall meetings, anonymous feedback forms, and suggestion boxes are great ways to encourage open communication. When people know their voices are heard and valued, they are more likely to speak up about safety concerns.

2. Regular Surveys and Polls

Regular surveys and polls are an effective way to gauge the general sentiment about safety in the organisation. These tools can be designed to understand specific safety aspects you need to measure. The key is ensuring anonymity so respondents feel secure in providing honest feedback.

3. Engagement in Safety Training

Active participation in training sessions can be a good indicator of how seriously people take their safety. However, beyond mere attendance, assessing engagement levels, understanding what people are learning, and gauging their comfort in applying these learnings in real-life scenarios are important. But you also need to gauge if the lessons are being applied.

4. Safety Champions

Appointing safety champions within teams can create a more approachable platform for discussing safety concerns. These people can be trained to spot potential hazards, understand the nuances of people's attitudes towards safety, and act as a bridge between the management and the workforce.

5. Incident Reporting Trends

Analyse trends in incident reporting. A rise or drop in reports can indicate various things, such as the effectiveness of safety measures or the people's willingness to report incidents. It's important to understand the context behind these trends.

6. Focus Groups and Interviews

Conducting focused group discussions and one-on-one interviews can provide deep insights into individual perceptions and experiences regarding safety. These interactions can uncover areas that might not be evident in surveys or general observations.

8. Benchmarking and Learning from Others

Look outside your organisation. Benchmarking against industry standards and learning from others' best practices can provide fresh perspectives on enhancing safety and understanding employee and resident sentiments. These lessons can be brought in and shared.

And Finally

While things like risk assessments are the backbone of any safety program, the true measure of their effectiveness lies in the perceptions and experiences of those they are designed to protect. By employing a mix of direct and indirect methods to understand these perceptions, you can create an environment where safety is not just a policy, a product or a thing you must do but a deeply ingrained part of the culture.

Engage with your employees, listen to their concerns, and make safety a shared responsibility. The goal is to create an environment where everyone feels safe.

At Ligtas, while we do talk about compliance, we don’t just focus on compliance; we encourage you to create a culture of safety. Creating safe environments goes beyond ticking boxes. It involves engaging everyone, promoting a safety mindset, and continually assessing and refining safety practices. This proactive approach is essential in ensuring long-term safety and well-being.

Our depth of knowledge, diverse skill set, and extensive experience enable us to offer comprehensive solutions beyond mere compliance. Because we can see the bigger picture, we bring a wealth of expertise to the party and offer tailored advice and strategies that make a tangible difference, ensuring that safety is one of an organisation's core values.

Join our mission to create a safer world.

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