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This Monday morning I checked my email and found the same rather grim message I receive every week at the same time. I didn’t open it, and realized that the impact of this weekly email alert had lost most of its impact on me. It was a good reminder that whatever workplace safety is, it is probably not effective when served static.

If you are a contributor in any capacity towards a positive and progressive workplace safety culture, you are certainly aware of the average tree worker’s attention span for safety messages. Getting buy-in from your coworkers isn’t going to come easy, and I’ve found myself looking outside our industry for fresh ideas when the repetition starts to grate on me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is no silver bullet when it comes to selling safety to your team – safety is a concept, an attitude, a process that there unfortunately is no guaranteed formula for success that I can provide you with.

My feelings on what makes or breaks safety culture is the pursuit of improvement, or taking comfort in being compliant, or being indifferent entirely. I’ll unpack that:

Being compliant is checking all the boxes that have been defined and nothing more. Being comfortable in compliance is adopting an attitude that our work environment is static. Which it is not.

Pursuit of improvement should include meeting the benchmarks established for compliance, with an added understanding of all workers that the standard continues to progress.

I get a little tired of being bombarded with concepts, and I believe embracing concepts is where a lot of company safety programs fall flat. Concepts exist in a coworker’s imagination only if they accept the information you are providing, and we typically do not take the opportunity to let them experience the concept in practice. Adult learning best practices emphasize that we learn by doing and yet we as an industry are content to set aside 15 minutes for a safety meeting once or twice a week to cover all of our safety and safe work procedure reminders.

Stop and think where you last experienced engaging material that changed how you approach work, and possibly even your attitude towards work. For me it was:

  • a group project (a set of tasks with a predefined outcome or goal)
  • free of time or client constraints (relatively speaking)
  • a theory element with guidelines or rules introduced and discussed prior to practice
  • a practice element with hands on tools and procedures performed
  • trainee efforts are measured in group discussion. Feedback is provided. A qualified leader either endorses the group feedback, or provides clarity on shortcomings of the group feedback.
  • more opportunity to practice and build understanding and competency after receiving feedback.

Getting the support of your employer to allow the time and space for internal safety training to succeed can be a challenge that may come down to your ability to build the idea and pitch it effectively. Static safety programs also cost time and money, but deliver only signed documents.

 - Gary Oaks

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