Give Your Employees the Benefit of the Doubt on Safety

Gifts and kind sentiments shared during the year-end holiday season bring to mind corollaries with workplace health and safety. Giving positive feedback and the benefit of the doubt to workers will help make success in safety possible. In safety, you do get what you give.

Let’s say that you see someone get help before lifting heavy boxes. It would be a good idea to let these workers know that you appreciate their teamwork approach to safety. They will appreciate having their work noticed and you will feel better knowing that you’ve furthered a positive relationship. You will also have peace of mind knowing that you didn’t allow a recognition opportunity to pass you by.

Giving workers the benefit of the doubt also pays back. People don’t generally go looking for opportunities to get hurt or break rules. There must be a reason for their actions. Taking time to understand WHY workers act as they do (rather than just addressing employees) keeps corrective feedback positive by demonstrating fairness, genuine concern, and a desire to support.

That said, providing good feedback and benefit of the doubt is not as easy as it may sound. As mentioned in the UL training course, Giving and Receiving Feedback, the way that feedback is delivered can be as important as the words spoken. There are several ways to make receiving feedback easier for the person with whom you are talking.

Positive feedback

Provide positive feedback as soon as you notice good work. Prompt feedback helps people to connect their actions with praise given – which is a good thing when it comes to promoting more good work. Even if you also observe questionable work practices, lead with positive observations so workers will know that their good work was not taken for granted.

Simply saying “nice job” helps a lot, but it’s often better to specifically mention what you saw and why that matters to you. So instead of stopping at “nice job,” take your feedback a step further and say something like this, “I realize you are busy and getting help took initiative. You may have saved yourself a painful back injury. Thank you for doing your work the safe way.”

Great feedback sounds like a conversation. Conversations allow both parties to share insight and seek clarification. Always end conversations with a standing offer to help if workers ever need anything.

Corrective feedback

Corrective feedback doesn’t need to be “negative feedback,” yet many times it is. Following some common sense tips and techniques can make delivering corrective feedback a more positive endeavor.

Never go into a corrective feedback conversation thinking you already know all the answers. Instead, have compassion, communicate and be ready to embrace new ways of thinking as workers explain the reasoning for their actions. If someone isn’t doing work the safest way, ASK WHY. Answers to the question may be surprising. In many cases, observers will find that there’s a perfectly good reason why people act as they do and why conditions are as they are.

Don’t be a distraction that could get someone hurt. Stand in a place where workers can see you. Carefully get their attention and then introduce yourself and your purpose; do not lurk unannounced observing or taking pictures. Don’t tap anyone on the shoulder unless they can see and anticipate the contact.

Be specific about what you saw and what you want to see. Specific advice helps people improve. For example, you might say “bend your knees and keep your back straight when you lift.”

Make sure workers know that you care about their safety and well-being first and foremost. When mentioning your observations, express your concern about possible consequences. Let them know that it’s not that they can’t do the job, but that they or others may get hurt as a result of what you have observed.

Some workers receive positive feedback awkwardly in front of others. A far greater number of workers have a problem receiving corrective feedback in front of others, so avoid difficult discussions in public places where others may hear or be embarrassed.

Not everyone is going to be open to feedback. Someone may say: “I have done this a thousand times before and never gotten hurt,” “That won’t happen to me,” “No one else has said anything,” or “I don’t have time to do this the way you want me to.” Be prepared for these defenses and objections. Remember to stay calm, be specific and express your concern. You may need to explain what could go wrong and how it could impact the worker. You may even need to cite examples of when accidents have happened and how they could have been prevented. The main goal is to make sure you and the worker are working toward the same thing – a safe workplace.

Make sure people know the safe way to do things and why it is important. Ask for a commitment to do work the safe way. Last but not least, always thank the person to whom you are providing coaching for their time, taking action and their commitment to working safely.

Make the Year-Round Commitment

Giving feedback and the benefit of the doubt is not just for the holiday season; it makes a lot of sense throughout the year when it comes to workplace health and safety. Determining the real reasons for problems can be positive and liberating. Solving system issues puts companies on a path to safer future free from reactive “firefighting” associated with less effective solutions focused on fixing workers. What’s more, people will be glad to see you coming. And you will be bringing solutions that help, rather than hurt relationships.