10 Expectations to Improve Safe Working Conditions and Behaviors

Let us start with a definition:

Merriam Webster’s definition of expectation:

The act or state of expecting: ANTICIPATION in expectation of what would happen

A few years ago, a group of friends traveled to New York City to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square. They arrived a few days early to tour and explore one of the most iconic cities in the world. As any New York City visit would have it, they ended up using the subway to get around the city. After their first subway ride, the group exited into the subway terminal trying to figure out which line would take them to Little Italy for lunch. They found themselves at the crossroads of subways. While trying to figure out which train to catch, a little lady who was pushing a janitorial cart noticed that they were confused. She approached them asking this question “Hey guys, you need some help?” Of course, she could tell they did. Then without request from the new city visitors she said, “Tell me where you want to go, and I will tell you how to get there.”

Expectations: You have them. I have them. Your workers have them. Your employer has them. Your family has them. Your client has them. McDonalds has them. (They tell us every day that we are going to love it)

Everyone has expectations.

How do we realize what those expectations are?

Communicate them.

Expectations are a two way street. The process is a simple model:

  • Establish a focus on an idea or task
  • Discover possibilities of achieving the idea or task
  • Establish a plan of action
  • Discuss barriers
  • Debrief

As Stephen Covey states “start with the end in mind,” in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

When expectations are set, discussed, and agreed to, we can expect a higher level of achievement.

Across most industrial and construction industries, employers struggle to convince workers to work safe.

However, the best performers have certain traits that seem to accomplish what other organizations cannot.

What sets them apart? The way they approach expectations.

Let us look at 10 expectations that when applied on a consistent basis result in improving safe behaviors and safe working conditions.

Expectation # 1: Safety is not a priority; it is a value.

Get rid of safety first statements and set the expectation that safe work is an established value in the operation. Give employees the right to stop work and encourage the use of this rule. Make sure upper management has established a value statement and they support it. Raise the bar to “stop work obligation.”

Expectation # 2: Employers and workers are to work together.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, the first element of a safety and health system is the implementation of a complementary relationship between employers and workers. Set the expectation that all workers are assured of the relationship.

Expectation # 3: Hazardous conditions and acts are to be reported and communicated.

Establish a proactive system of looking for unsafe acts and conditions. When these potential injury-creating circumstances are discovered, give the worker the process and the permission to announce it and a means to correct it.

Expectation # 5: Communicate and explain the scope of the job and the required outcome.

Communication is a simple model. It involves the sender, the message, the receiver, and the feedback. Set an expectation that each part of this model is effectively implemented.

Expectation # 6: Give positive feedback as well as recommendations for improvement.

Do not just point out the negative. Give equal feedback. Balance the positive feedback with any required improvements.

Expectation # 7: Give respect and encourage engagement.

Build trust by giving respect and encouraging engagement. Learn how to ask a good question. Stay away from always asking closed-ended questions. Ask the following question: “How can we do this job safer?”

Expectation # 8: Confirm honest care for the worker and their families.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” Theodore Roosevelt. That is, it. Set an expectation of respect and trust.

Expectation # 9: Discuss the hazards associated with the job.

Are workers knowledgeable of the hazards associated with their job? Keep this OSHA regulation front and foremost: 29 CFR 1926.21 (b)(2) “The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.”

Keep improving on the risk assessment. Have a good hazard discussion using a job safety analysis process. Then at the end of the job ask the following questions: What did we do right? How can we improve? Did anyone get hurt?

Expectation # 10: Do not assume that someone else is in charge of your safety.

“Your brother’s keeper.” The phrase is quite common in the workforce. But what does it mean if the employee does not know how to do it? Set clear expectations on how to implement that agreement. Teach hazards and controls. Do not assume that workers know how to “be your brother’s keeper.”

A couple of add-ons:

Start by repeating your company’s vision of safety. What is in it for me? Tough question, but one that needs to be answered. Work on that culture that drives safety because it is the right thing to do.

Create a model for safety leadership. Define what really good safety leaders know, do and care about.

Let us close with a few favorite quotes that belong in this article.

“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.” ~ Patricia Neal

“Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information.” ~ Peter Drucker

President John F. Kennedy challenged all Americans with the following expectation: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Improving Project Safety with ResponsAble

Struggling to find qualified safety professionals for a contracted or direct hire position? As expert safety recruiters, we help you get the job done. ResponsAble is the safety recruiting company that helps you find the right people with the necessary skills to effectively and safely complete the job. Big or small, temporary or permanent. For more information, please submit a contact form here.

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