Why Safety Professionals Shouldn’t Yell
I was asked recently why I didn’t yell at staff when I was on a construction site. While I do yell to be heard over the noise that exists on a site, I never yell or scream to get someone’s attention or to make them correct their actions. This may seem strange to some, since they may feel that the only way to get someone to do what they want is to yell at them. I have always felt that this can be counterproductive. There are other reasons why safety professionals shouldn’t yell, which I will touch on below.
Yelling can be Unsafe Itself
If someone is already doing an unsafe act, yelling at them can make the situation worse. There are two reasons. One is that even if the action of the worker is unsafe, they are at least paying attention to what they are doing. n this situation, it would be better to get their attention in another way, such as standing somewhere in their line of sight so that if they detect the movement, they can shut down the machine they are using. Only when they have shut down the machine should you then begin to proceed with the corrective actions and discipline.
The second reason is that if you yell at someone you could startle them. When I was in junior high, one of my classmates snuck into the woodworking shop to use the band saw. A student teacher from the Teacher’s College came up from behind and yelled at him. The student was startled and when he jumped, he caught his finger on the blade of the saw. You should never do anything to distract or startle a worker, since it can make the situation worse. Again, get the worker’s attention another way.
Negative Reactions from Staff
Some workers I have dealt with have a negative reaction to being written up at the best of times. Yelling at them like R. Lee Emery is not going to make the situation any better. Workers can get defensive and then try to justify their action. By having workers get their backs up, you may not prevent the unsafe act from reoccurring. They will just return to the act after you leave.
If you have a reputation for yelling over every little thing, you can also negatively affect the way staff will interact with you. I have had bosses who yell all the time. Their employees are usually afraid of them and won’t go to them if they have a problem. As a safety professional, you need to be on good terms with everyone from the summer intern to the CEO. I learn more about what the safety issues on a site are from just interacting with the staff on site then an hour long inspection, since they will be there 40 hours a week and know what concerns them. If they feel they can’t bring a problem to you, you are making the site more dangerous.
Yelling is Wasted on Some People
As I said, I worked for a couple of bosses who like to yell and scream when something didn’t go the way they thought it should. While most workers were afraid of them and would jump to action, others would just stand there, wait until they were done yelling or had left, and then go back to doing. If they can do this with their boss, what chance could a safety coordinator have? If yelling is wasted on them, why would you waste your energy and voice if you are not going to get them to change their actions?
The important thing to remember is that just because you are not yelling at staff, you are not letting them away with anything. Progressive discipline steps must be followed and documented. At no point should staff be allowed to walk over the safety professional on a job site. The reasons why safety professionals shouldn’t yell is that it can be safety issue, it can increase resistance to a corrective action and in some cases, it is just a waste of energy. By keeping your temper, and voice, under control you can create an atmosphere where workers will come to you with their safety concerns and you can deal with discipline in a more productive manner.