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The Unexpected Consequences of Setting a Poor Health & Safety Example

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on September 25, 2020 at 4:44 PM

Building a positive safety culture, like building a reputation, takes time. In the words of Warren Buffett, it takes 20 years to build a reputation – and five minutes to ruin one.

The same is true of a safety culture.

Unfortunately, there are many ways to damage your safety culture. One of the most insidious is management setting a poor health and safety example. In fact, this is one of the most pervasive ways managers ruin a strong workplace. It’s such an insidious problem that it actually damages your workplace in subtler ways than most managers realize.

Here are two unexpected consequences and why they’re so significant for your workplace.

Poor Role Models

If you set a poor health & safety example as a manager, there’s one glaring consequence. In other words, if your employees see a bad safety example, they’re likely to follow suit.

Employees follow their managers in myriad obvious and subtle ways, for any number of reasons. In the case of safety, employees take cues from their supervisors in ways their supervisors don’t even realize.

Remember, employees learn the lay of the land by watching their manager. If they see their manager doing something a certain way, they may reasonably assume that’s the correct way to do it (at least, if they’re a new employee). If they’re a seasoned employee and know better, seeing their manager do it the wrong way sends an even worse message: that the correct way to do it is irrelevant.

Low Morale

If employees see that the correct way to do things is irrelevant, that sends the dangerous safety message that safety isn’t actually important, regardless of what your deliberate safety messaging says. Worse, employees are more likely to read those messages as hypocrisy and lip service.

The net result is low morale, which is incredibly expensive for employers. Gallup estimates there are about 22 million actively disengaged employees costing the U.S. economy $350 billion each year in lost productivity due to absenteeism, illness, and other costs that arise when employees are unhappy at work.

Worse, low morale is unsafe.

Remember, when employees are disengaged from their jobs, they’re not engaged with critical tasks of their jobs. That includes safety tasks that may well save lives.

Even employees who try to stay engaged with safety are stuck fighting an uphill battle. After all, if everyone around them is dispirited and disengaged, including management, it’s hard to stay engaged and optimistic.

Setting a Better Health & Safety Example

Setting a better health & safety example begins with one key ingredient: safety awareness. You have to be aware that your safety culture has a problem. After that, you have to be willing to admit it – and willing to take the necessary steps to make it better by learning where you went wrong and what you should do instead.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you learn. That’s where we can help. If you’re looking for more tools to make your safety culture stronger, make sure to check out our blog for more great tips.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Risk Management, EHS Management, Training Management, Incident Management, Safety Management, Safety Culture, Human Resources

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