Workplace Safety – Is Intimidation a Useful Tool?

I saw this question posed recently on a safety discussion thread,“Is intimidation a useful tool in getting people to work safely?”

My thoughts? Book answer is “no – don’t intimidate”. Treat people with respect and develop trust. Through trust, people will bring forth ideas and concerns that would have otherwise been suppressed. Learning about ideas and concerns before serious losses occur is where we want to be.

A system of rewards and consequences (accountability) can be motivating. However , the idea of “accountability” can also seem intimidating. How people perceive the concept of accountability says something about a company’s culture. If the perception is purely negative, an organization may not be doing enough to recognize and reward performance.

In my experience, safety systems that measure individual or team inputs and activities (rather than just overall loss / no-loss outcomes) can turn a culture around making “accountability” a good thing.

Which brings me to coaching in safety – the passion good coaches have for winning and the demands these coaches place on their players can seem almost intimidating. A coach who is intimidating solely for the sake of being intimidating may not win the commitment of their players and if the players aren’t committed, the team won’t perform well, and that coach can begin looking for another job.

So, what makes a good coach in safety?

  • Effective coaches must set big picture safety and health goals and allocate resources to achieve them. They must blend innovative new approaches with traditional practices, overcome the resistance to change and deal with the challenges that come with their vision.
  • The safety coaching staff must clearly define policies and processes, make sure employees have the necessary training and follow through by monitoring performance.
  • Measuring and analyzing safety and health metrics, including leading indicators, is the key to identifying and correcting problems before they become losing streaks.
  • As a bridge between senior executives and front-line workers, safety coaches are uniquely positioned to help build an organization-wide safety and health culture where people do the right thing because it’s the right thing. Culture building takes time, but the long-term payoff is tremendous.

In time, players will support a coach that defines the expectation, recognizes achievement as much or more than failure: these players will come around, support and try to “win” for the demanding coach.