There’s a fine line between being an effective safety coach and getting into someone’s face. Once you cross the line, it’s hard to turn back.
That opinion, credited to Alaska safety engineer Jim Dickie, framed a safety seminar called “Safety Coach … or Irritant?” presented at the recent annual conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers in Denver, CO.
Robert Button, director of Portland, OR-based Safety Results Inc. said the line has been crossed when a supervisor doesn’t know when to shut up, provides too much information, is demeaning or condescending, or becomes an “instant expert” who offers nothing useful to workers.
The irritating supervisor is quick to point out what’s being done wrong, but never what’s being done right. He or she will interrupt a worker’s concentration, get in the way or stare at workers for long periods.
Coaching is a powerful tool for developing consistent use of best safety practices across an organization, but it must be done properly. “Coaching is about helping people change habits,” says Button.
Effective safety coaches:
provide valid reasons for an employee to change an unsafe practice
know specifically what needs changing to improve performance
encourage employees to practice necessary changes at slower times during a shift, not when the pressure is on
encourage workers to perform “self-checks” and have co-workers perform “peer checks,” as well as personally checking workers’ performance to keep them from falling back into unsafe habits
can convince workers to postpone passing judgment on a change until they have become accustomed to doing something differently
Tim Razzeca, a safety engineer with the Westinghouse Western Zirconium Plant in Ogden, UT, spoke about a head-to-toe technique of observing employee safety performance.
Starting with the head, supervisors should check that the employee is wearing, where required, a hardhat, safety glasses or goggles, hearing protection, respiratory protection, or a hood or face shield.
Are the worker’s eyes on task? Is he straining his neck muscles by extending his head closer to his work? Is the neck being held at an awkward angle, as people do, for example, while holding a phone between shoulder and neck, instead of with a hand?
The same evaluations can be made of the worker’s body, arm and hand, legs and feet positioning and Personal Protective Equipment. For example, if workers bring their elbows six inches closer to their bodies, they may reduce by half the forces of lifting and carrying.
Supervisors first should offer “success feedback” – in other words, compliment the worker on what is being done safely. “Guidance feedback,” which could include letting an employee watch a discreetly recorded video clip of his unsafe behavior, should follow.
“Try for a quick improvement or two. Don’t try to achieve this with 10 or 12 or even five or six improvements,” advises Razzeca.
Button says safety coaching isn’t just about giving employees feedback; it also involves giving them solutions.
If your “team” isn’t always working safely, consider contacting a company that teaches safety coaching techniques.