Never Underestimate the Power of What You DON’T Say
Not everything is mutually exclusive
As you can imagine, I get a wide variety of comments based on the things I post here on Relentless Safety. Most of it is good, encouraging, and helps drive the conversation. Some people resort to personal attacks when they disagree. Especially when I’m feeling feisty and post things like THIS… or THIS. Don’t worry, no one has made me cry yet. I find it entertaining.
One recurring theme in the few (and I mean few in the sense that I haven’t yet had to start counting with my toes… fingers only) negative replies I’ve gotten over the past few months is that they tend to assume that because I’ve advocated for one particular thing I don’t support some other, unrelated thing. For instance, THIS POST covered my (not as controversial as I first thought) view on why we should stop measuring safety based on outcomes. In it I talked about why rates are a terrible measure of performance. One reader responded in disbelief because I “don’t care about the little things” even though that statement was never made.
My experience is people tend to jump to conclusions and make illogical leaps when they disagree but (presumably) don’t have a good rebuttal. The same thing happened after THIS POST that covers a certain type of flawed policy. The response that time was that I was advocating for a world with no safety rules at all.
Newsflash: I don’t have all the answers
Another common comment is that I don’t provide solutions to the problems I identify. Most of the time I have to refrain from replying, “did you actually read what I wrote?” Sometimes the solution is in the title (I’m sneaky like that). Do I write detailed blueprints for how to implement? No, of course not. That’s for each of us to do in our particular situation.
Aside from that, it would be incredibly vain and presumptuous for me to assume I know how to fix everything. If I find a solution that I think is particularly useful, I share it (case in point). We should all do that, but I digress.
Here’s the real meat and potatoes
Enough about me and my plight with keyboard warriors. Maybe one of them will click on some of these links and read with an open mind. I won’t hold out hope though. What I do hope is that someone will be able to take some of these lessons I’ve learned and apply them in a way that will improve their environment.
In my book, I briefly cover an episode with a supervisor who worked on a project I was a part of for a short period. He was a skilled tradesman, but a terrible leader. And not at all supportive of any worker safety initiative. I tried many times to coach him on it, but he was stuck. He would comply, that wasn’t the issue. His delivery sucked.
Every time a new requirement or program rolled out, he would roll his eyes and sigh as he delivered the message. I don’t recall every specific instance, but his delivery usually came out something like this: “OK, guys. Corporate is making us do this crap. Make sure you sign this sheet before you get to work. Otherwise you’ll just have to listen to it again.”
What he DIDN’T say was “this will make your work safer” or “I really support this.” He didn’t believe in it, so neither did his people. As an example, I would routinely find them huddled in the break room at the end of the day filling out their pre-shift JHAs. If it wasn’t so sad, it would have been comical.
One of them would scribe and try to recreate their day hour by hour:
“Hey, Jimmy,” he would say. “What were we doing at 2 pm? Oh, right… What PPE were you wearing? Got it.” You can probably imagine that conversation in vivid detail.
Eventually they found a better corner to hide in, but their practices never changed. All because of what their supervisor didn’t say.
It happens all the time
I’m not just knocking supervisory skill here. This is applicable anyone at any level of an organization. The point is that sometimes what goes unspoken is what we hear loudest. Think about every time you watch someone doing a task incorrectly or in an unsafe manner and then walk on without saying something. What does that action say to the person who’s doing it? I would assert that it clearly tells them what they’re doing is acceptable, maybe even expected.
That’s just one of many scenarios where we have the opportunity to communicate better. Safety would benefit a whole lot by meeting people where they are, not assuming they know what we expect, and giving clear direction. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. None of us will get it right every time, but it’s a worthy endeavor to put in some concerted effort.
Here’s to some meaningful conversations.
If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.
March 9, 2020
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