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Mindsets are Key to Every Safe Operating Procedure

Posted by Andrew Watters on

The 2020 Black Lives Matter movement was triggered by the power of mindset. Every safe operating procedure, and every safety topic, is similarly reliant on attitude. Arrests go foul when police have a tainted mindset, and site safety is compromised when workers have ‘bad’ attitudes.

Protests cease to be safe when rage and chaos are present, and our workplaces also become unsafe when workers lose sight of safety and professionalism. The simple fact is that every safe operating procedure relies on workers exercising the right mindset. Mindsets are powerful. Very powerful! 

Your workers are unlikely to kneel on a throat, loot a store or tear down a statue, but just as mindsets are key in those actions, mindsets also contribute to non-compliance with safe operating procedures. By being conscious of the headspace our people are in, we can better implement our WHS Management System (WHSMS) and be effective in harnessing their compliance across a range of safety topics.

Let’s look at ways we can promote and sustain the type of mindsets that make safe operating procedures work.

A Safe Operating Procedure Works When ...?

In case you’re not a regular reader of this resource, this article follows up on a summary article published in early June 2020. It was titled, Your Safety Is Only As Strong As Your Weakest WHS Procedure, and it introduced five focus areas of mindset, method, leadership, currency and affordability. In this article, we focus on mindsets. 

In that introductory article, we addressed the false perceptions that work health and safety procedures slow things down, complicate production, and reduce profit. 

Such beliefs are understandable. When we evaluate a WHS procedure only in regards to the time and place it is happening, we might rightly conclude the safety procedure did slow, complicate and increase the unit-cost of that activity. But no safe work procedure takes place in a vacuum. They occur with the broader context of a WHS Management System and the more extensive operations of the enterprise, which are enormous and complex. 

The mindsets of your workforce need to lift beyond the task immediately before them. A bigger vision is key to fostering helpful mindsets. Remember, your safety is only as strong as the mindset of your weakest worker.

You might consider breathing life into these three workplace mindsets:

  1. A quality-focused mindset,
  2. A competitive mindset, and
  3. A profit mindset.

Safety Topics and a Quality-Focused Mindset

We won’t labour the point on this item since the connection is fairly obvious. A quality-focused mindset typically produces attention to detail, a willingness to do what could otherwise be annoying, and an awareness that no activity exists in isolation. Workers with this sort of mindset are unlikely to cut corners on safety. On the other hand, those with casual attitudes toward quality and outcomes are also likely to be lax when it comes to safety. 

For these reasons, we’re going to focus on competitive and profit issues. 

Viewing safety from a quality and precision-focused perspective is essential, and if you’d like to delve into this one some more, we created a six-part resource that will help. Published in 2017, it’s coverage of quality safety procedures can be an exemplar for developing quality mindsets in your workplace. It hit on a lot of safety topics across the WHS procedures, processes and resources spectrum. These articles can be accessed here and here.


Safe Operating Procedures and the Competitive Mindset

Are you dubious about that heading? It would be understandable if you were.

Competition can enhance motivation and effort; this has been conclusively proven, but are we pushing the envelope by suggesting competition can increase safety? 

You might also be thinking, “Isn’t WHS something we need to be co-operating on?” (and if you think that, you’re right on track). But there’s a particular type of competition we are encouraging. How do we produce the right competitive environment?

To help workers feel good about safety, and feel good about competition, we need to be creating the right emotions - and we’re not just spouting theories here. We’ve accrued data from a variety of sources, but probably the easiest to digest is the Harvard Business Review article if you’d like to read more.  

How Does the Competition Make People Feel?

Most athletes (even the ordinary ones like me) know that there are psychological and physiological states that help them play the game better. Focus, energy, endurance and more are all supported by the right mindset. 

The most effective workplace competitions are those that focus on winning a bonus or some form of public recognition. These create anticipation and excitement, which, in turn, can produce creativity,  the pursuit of efficiency and effective compliance with safe operating procedures.

Athletes (and non-athletes) also know that fear and anxiety are not helpful. These negative emotions usually hinder performance, reduce problem-solving capabilities, increase unethical behaviours, and encourage corner-cutting - none of which are good for safety. 

Avoid these emotions by ensuring competitions do not stir awareness of negative consequences, like:

  1. The threat of being laid off, 
  2. Facing an income reduction, or 
  3. Facing humiliation of any form. 

But it also isn't as simple as stirring up the right sentiment. As a reasonably stable rule, Aussies don't like it when you 'handle' or manipulate them, and they don't like being revved-up. It feels like a con. For this reason, ensure you're upfront about why you're conducting or creating competition. 

The bonus is that you'll usually win respect for genuinely investing in their safety.

When using competitions to increase safe operating procedure compliance, consider applying these principles:

  1. Create contests that focus on specific behaviours (like the Highway Patrol does with particular campaigns, e.g. seatbelts).
  2. For procedures that involve a team, reward the team (not individual members).
  3. Run competitions for short and specific periods. Don't let it become routine.
  4. Publicly and regularly post score updates. Don't let focus wane. 
  5. Minimise the risk of 'losing'. Avoid producing fear and anxiety. 
  6. Focus on the benefits to be gained, not what might be lost.
  7. Use rewards that create anticipation and excitement.
  8. Reward in public, praise in private.  

Using Profit to Increase Safe Operating Procedure Compliance

PROFIT MATTERS! We know it. Our workers know it. Our clients know it. If there's insufficient profit, there will be no business, and there will be no jobs. No reasonable person expects a business to operate at a loss, so we should openly address some stinking thinking about profit and safety.

In late 2019, we published an article showing that safe operating procedures, when rightly approached, actually improve your bottom line. 

In that article, we suggested three key strategies to cultivate this awareness and mindset:

  1. Think about safety procedures in a helpful way, 
  2. Support people with constructive work-culture, and 
  3. Equip them with easy to use resources

A helpful mindset recognises the complexity of the work environment, adopting a determined commitment to see beyond the obvious. When we understand the contribution of safe operating procedures across a range of safety topics and contexts, and we link those topics and contexts to profit (which isn't hard), we begin to think in the right way.

Likely, some of your people are already thinking with a proper mindset. Celebrate, appreciate and support these people, and build a culture around them that supports and encourages the things they do. Know the needs of your teams, model the behaviours you want, discourage corner-cutting, and ensure every person has the right to say "No" and "Whoa". These are the foundations of constructive work culture.

Finally, resource your people well - which of course is where we come in. When safety resources are efficient, practical, easy to use, cost-effective, and align with your goals, they become a profit-oriented investment.

If you take a quick look around, you’ll find:

We can also tailor a solution to your specific needs.

‘Safe’ Thinking Saves Businesses and Lives

Safety mindsets that work are quality-focused, intelligently competitive, and profit supporting.

From the highest executive to the youngest apprentice, safe thinking will save lives, and also position you for profit over time. Safety mindsets matter.

Call 1800 304 336 or Request a Callback and we’ll help you make profitable mindsets a reality. We’ll also help with your WHS systems, plans and wherever safe operating procedures are needed. We welcome questions, and there’s no obligations. We’re serious about supporting you!

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