Most companies have all sorts of programs in place that encourage intervening. They have policies in place stating that each worker has the right to ‘Stop Work’; there are ‘Pause’ programs that have been introduced and many companies have instituted ‘Observation Programs’ all of which are designed to encourage workers to intervene when they see unsafe actions or conditions. So that means that we have very effective intervention out on our worksites, Right?
Wrong! An extensive study conducted in 2010 involving 2600 workers across industries and from 14 different countries and in 10 different languages came to a different conclusion. It found that even though most companies the workers were with had a ‘stop work’ policy, workers intervened less than 40% of the time when they saw unsafe behavior. Dare I suggest that this may be a problem even for us with CSI Canada Safety. Is it true that even though intervention is part of our job description, some of us fail to act when we see an unsafe actions or conditions? If so, that is a serious problem. As safety techs, we know that we have been placed in a supervisory position and most workers see us as representatives of the oil companies we work for. That means that our failure to address unsafe behaviors sends an inconsistent message. It says that we don’t genuinely expect workers to abide by the formal safety standards in place.
So why don’t workers intervene? This question was addressed in the study I referred to earlier. There were two main reasons given to the question of why people didn’t intervene. One out of every four respondents said they didn’t intervene because the reaction would be anger or defensiveness. One out of five said it was because it wouldn’t make a difference. The unsafe behavior r would continue. So what can you as a safety tech do to improve the number of interventions on your site considering workers resistance to intervene. One important thing is that you need to consider effective intervention as a skill based competency. One of the skills an intervener has to have is the ability to accurately figure out the reason for an unsafe behavior.
Most people are not very good at this skill. When asked, over 80% of those questioned said that the reason those they saw doing unsafe behaviors was because they were either lazy or unmotivated. But when workers were questioned why they did an unsafe behavior, overwhelmingly they said it was because they did not realize that what they were doing was unsafe.
Let’s put this in practical terms. If you are doing a job and somebody intervenes with you on the assumption that you are lazy, unmotivated or possess some other negative character flaw, what is your reaction likely to be? Are you going to like it? I think an angry or defensive reaction is more likely.
As safety techs we need to get our workers to understand that the reason for most unsafe behaviors is not laziness but being unaware. When they understand this, the attitude with which they do an intervention will be much less demeaning or accusing and a defensive reaction will be far less likely. In fact, most workers welcome an intervention that would stop them doing an unsafe behavior. It is our responsibility to teach workers how to intervene positively, and a key part of that is getting people to understand that most unsafe behaviors are not because the other person doesn’t care. It’s usually because they are unaware and an intervention can prevent them from being injured or killed.