Change Management in Safety
In many organizations, or even industries, there seems to be resistance to change of any kind. The feeling is that they have done things a certain way for years and it has always worked, so why ruin it? The problem with this attitude is that by not adapting a company can fall behind its competitors by not keeping up with changes in technology, market conditions, or even customer requirements. While there are many articles that talk about this in marketing and engineering, safety is often overlooked. Change management in safety issues should be a priority for companies and industries so that injury rates can be reduced.
I was walking through the warehouse area of my last employer one day during renovations when I caught a worker with his stepladder leaning against the wall filling the cracks in the drywall. I told him that that was not the safe way to use a ladder, since the bottom could slide out. He looked at me and said “So you’re saying that the way I’ve been doing it for years in wrong?” My response was “Yes”.
Workers get used to doing things their way. Their attitude is that as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter how safe it is. You can see some of these workers who have been doing a job for years take it for granted that their way is right. They will take the guards off a tool to speed up production, or take a short cut that puts them at risk. Another attitude is “it won’t happen to me.” This exists outside the workplace, when we see people drink and drive.
Another attitude that I had to deal with is “you’ve never done my job, so how can you judge it”. While some safety professionals have worked in the field with tools, others, like me, may be new to an industry. I have seen older safety professionals argue that it is better to have been a labourer before being a safety professional. Personally, I don’t buy it. Industry and CSA standards, equipment manufacturer guidelines all exist for a reason. If worker isn’t following these, then they are not working safe. There is, after all, only one way to use a ladder.
Some companies and industries understand the importance of safety in the workplace. Others are more resistant to change or only take the steps needed to keep their Certificate of Recognition. They are the ones who will say “Safety is our number one concern….wait, we’re behind? Get it done, now!” Many companies view safety as an expensive extra, with no return on investment. It is an attitude that I see among so called advocates of small business, who see safety as a “Byzantine maze” that is to be navigated.
In Nova Scotia, we saw industry being resistant to change when the department of labour and advanced education proposed to change the training requirements for JOHSC members to a three day course. This would have seen Nova Scotia have parity with New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The Retail Council had the biggest pushback against this change and the result is the MacNeil government backed down and cancelled that change to the Workplace Health and Safety Regulations.
Some companies like to put their safety program front and center of their corporate identity. Ellis Don Construction for instance will brag about their safety record. Others just pay lip service to safety, only doing enough. When a safety issue comes up, they deal with it and don’t look at it further. It’s what make near miss reporting so hard to calculate, because workers may keep silent to avoid rocking the boat and may not to ruin the safety reward program that had been established.
We see in other companies, safety has no importance at all. These are the companies who have no program or policy, and if they do, they ignore it. An example would be the numbered company who was building an apartment building in Halifax and had two workers fall off the roof. They had put the priority on profit but the joke was on them because the Department and Labour shut them down to investigate the incidents.
Change management in safety will always confront those who feel that there is nothing wrong with the way they are doing things. Resistance can take a number of forms, such as sullen hostility and explanations as to why the changed won’t work. Trying to communicate why the changes must happen is always difficult. To be fair some changes that make work safer are received more easily. Still, there are those who see any change as a problem, to how they work or to their bottom line. By allowing workers to participate in the change, and demonstrating to management the real costs associate with incidents, change management in safety will be easier for everyone to handle.