While moving a new car up a ramp onto a payload bed for delivery, something goes wrong. The car starts to roll back down the ramp. Workers nearby run forward and secure it. The program manager presents the workers with awards at the next all-hands meeting for their quick response, preventing the car from possible damage. Does this send the right message? Would they have gotten awards if someone’s hand or foot had been crushed in the process?
Leaders create a safety culture with everything they do and say. They continuously communicate how much risk they are comfortable having workers take, yet they aren’t always aware of what they say, how their messages are received, or how they’re translated into action. Often, leaders are surprised when a near-miss investigation report shows that a team of workers took needless risks that resulted or could have resulted in a serious injury.
When employees take unnecessary risks to increase production outcomes, a common reason is that they’ve received a “production first” message from leaders who believe they sent a “safety first” message. Many serious injuries occur because one or more site-level leaders or employees took a risk that their company leaders, in hindsight, would not have wanted them to take. This happens because people process risk in multiple centers of the brain, and only one of these is thinking-oriented. All too often, in the absence of a consistent operational risk framework, individual risk decisions are driven by the social (peer pressure) and/or emotional (pain/pleasure) centers of the brain. Compounding the problem, many organizational leaders view risk tolerance as the responsibility of individual employees to manage.
To take the guesswork out of decision making, in moments that matter, organizations need an operational risk profile: a systematic understanding of risk that is aligned at all levels, from leadership to the front line. This should begin with a shared understanding of how much risk the organization is willing to accept as well as the organization’s priorities. Once shared understanding is gained, organizations can develop standards that describe the priorities and behaviors to guide decision making at all levels.
No business is without risks, but no leader wants his or her employees taking risks that can compromise ones’ safety. Clarity on how to approach situations where one might experience goal conflict is key to ensuring employees are making safe decisions when it matters most.
Interested in learning more about making safe decisions and increasing safety performance by enhancing human performance reliability, attend the Safety in Action® Conference where we have tracks dedicated to Human Performance Reliability. Learn more here.