Safety culture Injury prevention

Combating complacency

Safety issues arise when workers – and organizations – go on ‘autopilot’


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When empowerment arrives

At CPS Energy, leadership launched an initiative that gives all employees the authority to stop work if they deem it unsafe.

“Even as the CEO, I can’t trump that,” Gold-Williams said.

For instance, when a frontline employee stopped Gold-Williams for spending too much time looking at her cellphone, her immediate reaction was, “Oh, I got it. I got it.”

Then, she realized she hadn’t responded properly.

“I stopped myself and I thanked them,” she said. “You’ve got to give people that authority and then acknowledge that. They’ve got to see real examples.”

Leadership reinforcement is key to empowering workers, Gold-Williams said.

“We’ve got to get that empowerment in their hands on the front lines,” she said. “Management should own ensuring the reinforcement and giving that authority away.”

That also goes for newer employees stopping the work of senior colleagues.

“Time frame doesn’t matter in terms of keeping the public safe and keeping each other safe,” Gold-Williams said.

There’s always going to be a better way. You always have to be constantly learning.

Shawn Galloway
ProAct Safety

The importance of communication

At one of Jackson’s previous jobs, leadership communicated with workers via what he calls a “spray and pray” strategy.

“Spray the walls with posters and pray somebody reads them,” he said. “After one or two times, you don’t pay attention” to the posters – or their message.

At a time when workers are being peppered with information throughout their day – including cellphone notifications as well as electronic road signs and billboards before they even get to work – leadership must be creative in getting its messages across and making it stick to combat complacency.

Jackson suggests rotating signage to different areas of a workplace and changing the wording frequently.

One of Galloway’s clients has found the best way to get safety messages across to their employees is by displaying the messages on the inside of bathroom stall doors. “They call it ‘The Porcelain Press,’” he said with a laugh.

At CPS Energy, an effort called “meeting in a box” has been a valuable communication tool. The leadership team shares articles of safety-related situations in the utility industry, such as a recent serious incident involving a crane.

“As leaders, we said, ‘We haven’t seen this particular situation, but why don’t we share it with the organization?’” Gold-Williams said.

Each article is broken down into a one-page document that describes the situation and includes bullet points highlighting key preventive measures. The goal is for a two-way discussion to grow throughout the organization.

“We let the organization teach management about what’s practical and how we can do things better,” Gold-Williams said. “That diminishes the impact of people becoming complacent.”

Large or small, a solution for all

Organizations of all sizes can find solutions to disrupting complacency. “It’s not about flashy programs and pretty models on a screen,” Gold-Williams said. “It’s just the conscious thought of engaging people and treating them with the most consideration that you have.”

One-on-one conversations with employees likely will be easier for smaller employers, according to Gold-Williams, who points out that “a robust conversation” with employees about safety and complacency is free.

Whether your organization is large or small, “Your team members want to know that you care,” Gold-Williams said. “The commonality is people.”

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