Meeting safety goals requires a psychological safety net


Contrary to conventional wisdom, the up-and-coming generation of millennials might hold the key to an accident-free work environment in the industrial space. Their desire for a “touchy feely” management style makes them more receptive to a community- and relational-based approach to safety, which experts say is necessary for real change to occur. 

The latest buzzwords—psychological safety, “just culture” and human performance—all emphasize a softer approach to management that focuses on positive reinforcement rather than coaching.

David Sowers, a founding member of Zachary-based human performance consultant Knowledge Vine, says creating a sense of community within the plant environment gives workers the confidence to report potential safety issues without fear of repercussions.

It all hinges on a culture based on positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, many managers take a decidedly divergent approach by focusing on mistakes rather than accomplishments. “You need to reinforce four positive things for every one time you have to coach,” Sowers says. “Most industries are probably skewed in the other direction.”

Building a community based on trust is crucial to the process. Sowers refers to it as a “just culture,” which is one based on fairness, community and an open-door policy. This, in turn, gives workers a vested interest in what happens at the jobsite or plant.

That’s admittedly difficult to create in the industrial market, particularly during boom times when plants and crews consist of traveling workers and high turnover rates. But Sowers says that makes it all the more important. “You can’t build and sustain a human performance culture if you don’t have a just culture, if you don’t have that psychology.”

Knowledge Vine says it reduced one company’s turnover rate from 80% to 40% by transforming its environment into a just culture.

Read the full story from the latest issue of 10/12 Industry Report.