October 17, 2019
By: David Lynn
I learned the power of Approaching Others when I was the EHS Engineer at Duracell. We made AA and AAA batteries at our plant. One day I was walking through the Cell Assembly department in a rush to attend a meeting and I saw a battery in the middle of the aisle. I did not want to leave the slip hazard in the middle of the floor so I instinctually kicked it under a machine. My reaction was similar to what many people do when they drop a piece of ice in front of their refrigerator. They kick it under the refrigerator… right?
Every operator in the area saw me kick the battery! You would have thought I committed a major crime. They made a point to approach me and remind me to pick up the batteries! Don’t kick them under the equipment. For months, they would not let me forget my transgression. Most of the reminders were good natured harassment BUT their willingness to approach me made a HUGE impression. I never kicked another battery. I knew people were watching and they would approach me if I stepped out of bounds. It’s a lot like the ice in the floor of the kitchen. If my wife is watching, I pick up the ice because she will approach me.
Teaching people to approach others is one of the most important ways that you can engage employees. They need to feel their responsibility to help each other. Ask yourself an honest question. Is your workforce eager to approach people that do things unsafe? My experience is that most people would like to think they would stop someone from doing something unsafe but in reality, most people hesitate. You have to promote and cultivate a positive Approaching Others culture.
The first step is to recognize why people hesitate to approach someone. Here are five reasons:
- Lack of general awareness – In theory, people will acknowledge that a task has a certain level of risk. But, they do not believe they will get hurt. The overconfidence leads to a lack of general awareness or sensitivity to the risk.
- Fear of rejection – When people do not receive our message in a positive way, we feel rejected. Their response can have a significant impact on our willingness to approach the next person.
- Lack confidence – Everyone does not have an extroverted personality. Approaching people about something they are doing unsafe is not a natural behavior for some people. Repetition and support are important to build confidence.
- Fear judgement – Some people recognize some hazards because they have performed the same task. They understand the risk first hand. If they say something, the person may wonder “Who are you to tell me not to do that? You have done the same thing!”
- Uncertainty - We hesitate when we are not sure about what we see. Not everyone has the same level of safety knowledge. You may observe something that looks unsafe but you are not positive. The lack of confidence causes the hesitation.
The second step to build a positive Approaching Others culture is to help people overcome the obstacles.
One of the hardest things for most people to do is to start a conversation. Extroverts think this is a crazy statement but I know it is fact. I am an introvert. The idea of approaching someone that I don’t know is an unnatural action but my responsibility as a safety professional has helped me overcome many of the obstacles mentioned above. Here a few ways that you can make the process natural.
- Give people a goal. Challenge your workforce to intentionally approach one person a day about something safety related.
- Create an expectation that Approaching Others is a responsibility and not just a suggestion. Ask people this question every day. Did you approach anyone today? Follow up will support the expectation.
- Give people confidence by providing specific issues they can look for every day. Training, communication, and consistent monitoring will help build confidence.
- Eliminate judgement by communicating various safety topics about approaching others. Communicate the importance of receiving and delivering feedback in a positive way.
- Promote the concept! Your workforce should see and hear about Approaching Others from everyone. Make it visible with posters, banners, and postings.
The third step is to develop an implementation strategy. Here are few ideas.
- Put together an Approaching Others Steering Team. You need leaders from across your organization to champion the process.
- Develop a Top 10 Approach List. If you want people to build confidence in what they correct, you have to point them in the right direction. The list gives them a starting point.
- Conduct Approaching Others training for all employees. Train people on how important it is to help each other out. Help people think about how they will feel if someone gets hurt when they could have prevented it. Instill a sense of ownership.
- Deliver weekly Approaching Others safety topics. People need to hear a consistent message over time to build a habit. Weekly safety topics can help instill the message. Cover subjects like;
- How to give and receive feedback.
- How to approach a leader.
- How to handle difficult situations.
- How to help a new employee.
- How to take responsibility.
- How to take advantage of “fresh eyes”.
- How to handle resistance.
- Promote with posters, banners, table tents, etc. People need to see the message everyone. Create a marketing campaign that make the topic apart of the way people think.
- Have Approaching Others safety topics before meetings. If you have 3 or more people in a meeting, choose one person to describe their last approaching others moment. This will help make people accountable. The expectation will also raise situational awareness in multiple settings every day.
- Develop Approaching Others contact cards. Find a way to record who is approached and who is actually approaching others. If you track a process, you have a better opportunity for success.
- Find a way to incentivize Approaching Others. Reward the most active participants. Build a buzz around the mindset. That will help make it a habit.
The process is a mindset that embraces the personal responsibility to help. There is a tremendous benefit to cultivating a positive culture that approaches others when something is unsafe. Employees reinforce safety principles that you promote. They look for hazards and take ownership of correcting them. The positive atmosphere builds a culture that prevents injuries.