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Module 3

Influencing Safe Work Behaviour

Learning how to influence the safe working behaviour of your employees can greatly influence both safety performance and productivity. The first step is learning how to build a strong safety culture.

What is Safety Culture?

Safety culture is an unseen force that guides how your organisation views safety as a whole. It is influenced by every person in the organisation from general manager to new employee. You have a great deal of control over safety culture, especially those you supervise.

Safety culture influences how your workers treat safety. If safety culture is poor then your workers are less likely to adhere to basic safety instruction, such as using protective guards or equipment. If safety culture is good then workers often work independently for the safety of themselves and the safety of others.

Influencing Safe Worker Behaviour
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So how do you as a supervisor build safety culture? You do it through encouraging safe work behaviour and encouraging workers to be responsible for their safety and the safety of others. If you see someone doing something wrong, instead of simply warning or threatening them with disciplinary actions, explain to them why their actions were unsafe and what could possibly go wrong if they continue to do it. Use real world examples if you can.

Listen to your employees

Safety can be seen as a negotiation process. Perhaps the worker has a good explanation for doing what they're doing. Perhaps they have come up with a good idea to speed up production. It is your job as a supervisor to explore these possibilities and discuss it with the worker and management, identify where safety issues exist and come up with alternative ways of doing things. Remember if you listen to your workers and be on their side, then they are more likely to be on your side when difficult situations come up.

On the other hand some behaviours are simply unsafe and there is no other way around it. You as a supervisor need to be familiar with the disciplinary system at your workplace and enforce safety where needed.

Set the example

Workers are more likely to listen to you if: 

  • You can demonstrate the skills necessary to perform the job they are doing
  • You lead by example
  • You demonstrate the importance of safety through actions and examples
  • You know what you are talking about
  • You empower your employees to be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others

Why is rapport important?

Rapport is crucial for building a safe work environment. Rapport is what builds trust, confidence and a good working relationship between a supervisor and workers. Without it workers are less likely to follow instructions and may even make your life more difficult.

Building rapport can often be difficult, especially for supervisors who come into a new workplace with little knowledge of the people they will be working with. From a supervisors perspective some of the best methods for building rapport is to be consistent with your dealings with each worker, because playing favourites may make working with others difficult, and to actually pursue an interest in your workers. This can be as simple as saying g'day or chatting about a shared interest. This will not work for everyone but as a supervisor you should develop a best approach for each worker to make them feel a part of the team.

Some supervisors even go as far as describing their jobs as being part supervisor, part counsellor. The key is finding a balance that works within your workplace. It is no good if you play the role of friend and lose the respect as a supervisor. So be inclusive but maintain the hierarchy of employee and employer.

The Induction Process

'…we had one guy here and I went through all the training program… he was nodding his head so he understood, signed all the paperwork, took him out on the shop floor and straight away he did one thing wrong. So I grabbed him straight away and said 'the trainer just told you that' and he looked at me funny and all the other guys that are his culture started talking for him and I said to him 'no you's (sic) be quiet I want to listen to him' and I said to him 'do you eat paint?'… and he looks at me and he goes 'yeah'. I said 'you eat paint do you?' He goes like this yeah. He didn't understand what I was saying so he didn't understand any of the training so I… went to HR and said 'how did this guy get through without understanding?'

The above story is from a real manufacturing company. It describes one of the reasons why you as a supervisor need to be wary of the limitations of training, and also why you need to keep an eye on new workers. 

Training can never cover everything a person has to learn and working in a new workplace requires gradual learning over time. There may be some very specific things that must be learnt in your area which are not covered by induction. It is your job to know these and address them when new workers begin.

Assessing New Skills

As a supervisor it is important for you to possess a detailed working knowledge of the area you are supervising. Not only does this mean you can spot something when it goes it wrong, but you can also lead by example by demonstrating good practice.

This is especially important for new workers. When new workers finish inductions be sure to check their skills first hand. If they are working with machines, show them how to remove and replace guards so they can actually get their hands dirty while getting some first-hand knowledge about the equipment they'll be working with on a day to day basis. By giving them a chance to manipulate their tools in a safe environment they are better prepared to handle a safety issue should it arise in the future.