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Workplace Solutions

Safety program management

What is driving the evolution of cultures of safety?

June 23, 2014

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Responding is Vijay Rao, chief marketing officer, Honeywell Safety Products, Smithfield, RI.

Cultures of safety are constantly evolving. A primary driver of that successful evolution is the continued and significant shift in worker attitudes and behavior toward occupational safety. We are moving from corporate cultures, which dictate the adoption and usage of personal protective equipment, to cultures in which workers not only voluntarily embrace safety, but also make safer decisions on their own. At the most basic level, driving that evolution are advancements in two key areas: training and technology.

Regarding training and education: We like to say that safety doesn’t happen by itself – it takes smart preparation, quality equipment and a well-trained workforce. But although training in one form or another has always existed, the new emphasis on behavior-based training expands the focus from “how” to include “why.”

We’re seeing industry training efforts spark a basic change in worker behavior so that a worker not only knows how to do a task correctly and safely, but is internally motivated to want to do it safely. It becomes instinctive. The evolution in the culture of safety expands safety practice beyond the individual. Now, if a worker sees another worker behaving incorrectly, the first worker knows it’s wrong and acts to correct it. Training, therefore, applies not only to getting a better understanding of the hazards a worker may be exposed to, but also to what to do in a dangerous situation and the proper use of protective equipment to minimize or eliminate the potential harm.

Safety technology is a broad term that can be applied to advancements in the design, materials and technology of PPE products and services. PPE products themselves have evolved. Technology has made comfortable products that were once uncomfortable. Product designs utilize materials and technologies that improve the end-user experience. This makes the use of PPE over extended periods of time a lot better.

Take safety glasses, which traditionally are stereotyped as large, clunky, foggy and nerdy. No more. They’re high-tech and feather-light, featuring streamlined frames and designer lenses. Workers want to wear them and do – even outside of work – just to look stylish.

In fact, technology is advancing PPE design and desirability across all product lines. Fall protection harnesses are lightweight, comfortable and breathable. Hearing protection can be high-fidelity. It can even feature intelligent communication systems. We like to say that the best PPE can’t protect a worker if he won’t wear it. The good news is that these technology and design changes are motivating workers to want to wear their PPE.

Meanwhile, PPE services are empowering workers to “own” their personal safety practices by putting workers in charge of their own safety-related decisions. Fit-testing services provide workers with a real-world picture of their hearing protection, helping them select, fit and properly wear the best hearing protection devices for their individual environments.

Another revolutionary program is bringing prescription safety eyewear to workers via interactive kiosks on the plant floor. At the kiosks, employees not only select and are “virtually” fitted with their new safety glasses and frames, they even have the insurance paperwork required for their prescription lenses handled for them via a direct digital interface to their insurance providers.

While all these drivers are stimulating a dramatic move forward in company cultures of safety, it is important to note that they are also freeing safety managers themselves to evolve. Safety professionals are leaving behind adversarial roles as enforcers of regulations who previously led via a dialog of fear and threats. Now, they’re becoming partners and enablers, who offer best practices, technology and training for occupational safety improvements that workers are eager to adopt and use.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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