Tag Archives: workplace safety

Influencer QA

Overcoming Resistance to Safety Standards

David Maxfield 

David Maxfield is coauthor of two bestselling books, Change Anything and Influencer.


InfluencerQ Dear Crucial Skills,

I am trying to encourage employees to work safely, but often meet with resistance and feel like people only behave when the safety guys are around. How can I create long-term change and encourage employees to take responsibility for creating a safe work environment?

Seeking Workplace Safety

A Dear Safety,

Thanks for asking this important question. At first, it seems strange that people would resist following safe work practices. After all, none of us wants to be injured at work. Yet the problem you describe is very common—in part because many of us already feel safe at work.

Our workplaces are far safer than they used to be. In the U.S., time lost due to injuries has dropped by more than 50 percent since 1991. This means many of the most obvious sources of danger have been addressed and resolved. Now we are focusing on less obvious dangers and more stubborn behaviors.

Another complication is that many of the most dangerous behaviors are ones we are guilty of in our personal lives as well as at work. We accept the risks at home and we think we should be able to take the same risks at work. For example, many of the most fatal workplace accidents involve bad driving behaviors—we fail to buckle up, we speed, we drive carelessly, and we back into things. Another huge source of injuries involves bad ladder behaviors—we fail to use a ladder when we should, we don’t tie off our ladder, or we carry tools in our hands as we climb the ladder. How many of us ignore these risks when we’re not at work? So, it’s a challenge to get us to take these risks seriously when we’re on the job.

I’ll use our Influencer model to suggest a few steps you can take to create a safer working environment.

1. Focus on a few crucial moments. My guess is that most of your people follow most of the safety practices most of the time. This means your safety problem boils down to a few perfect storms—crucial moments when some of your people fail to follow some of the safety practices. Get your team involved by having them identify the handful of crucial moments that are most dangerous in their work environment. Our research study Silent Danger identified five crucial moments that we often use to justify skipping safety practices:

  • Get It Done. Justifying unsafe practices due to tight timelines.
  • Undiscussable Incompetence. Unsafe practices that stem from skill deficits that people don’t feel able to discuss.
  • Just this Once. Justifying unsafe practices as exceptions to the rule.
  • This Is Overboard. Justifying unsafe practices because the precautions seem excessive.
  • Are You a Team Player? Unsafe practices that people justify by saying they are for the good of the team, company, or customer.

2. Identify the vital behaviors in these crucial moments. The vital behaviors are the few actions that will keep people safe during the crucial moments they’ve identified. For example, suppose one of the crucial moments your team has identified is, “When it’s our fault that we’re behind schedule, we do whatever it takes to make up our lost time. And a typical shortcut is failing to use ladders when we should.”

The vital behaviors are: a.) Watch out for this crucial moment and warn others when you think you are at risk; b.) Be especially careful to avoid dangerous and tempting shortcuts when you’re in this crucial moment; and c.) Confront those you see taking a dangerous shortcut.

3. Build personal motivation. Your question revealed that people aren’t taking personal responsibility for their safety behaviors. They know what they should do but they aren’t doing it. This sounds like a motivation problem.

The typical mistake we make in motivating is to rely on verbal persuasion: data dumps, lectures, sermons, and rants. These are the least effective ways to motivate people.

The most effective way is personal experience. For example, we found that nurses who suffered a hospital-acquired infection were much more likely to remind their peers to wash their hands. Their experience turned hand hygiene into a moral passion.

But people don’t need to be injured to become motivated. Personal experience isn’t required. Our nurses were just as motivated if they’d had a family member or close friend who suffered an infection. Vicarious experience can be just as powerful.

Below is a link to a video we’ve used on off-shore oil rigs to remind people that accidents still happen and have life-changing consequences. We use it to start a conversation. Our goal is to have people share their own experiences and reconnect to the reasons they need to keep safe and watch each others’ backs.

You might also like to watch and share this compelling video about workplace safety.

4. Build Social Motivation. Another of your concerns is that people see you as the enforcer. There should be social motivation, but reminders should come from their peers as well as supervisors.

Often, it is important to involve senior managers and leaders and show them what they can do during crucial moments. For example, during a crisis when everybody is rushing and tempted to take shortcuts, it is very helpful for the manager who is over the entire crisis to remind people that they still need to take every safety precaution. These timely warnings from senior leaders counter the cynical expectations many employees have about their organization’s commitment to safety.

Obviously, these are just a few ideas to add to the mix. You’ll want to consider actions in each of the six sources of influence. Remember, leaders who combine four or more of these sources are ten times more successful at achieving their desired results.


Crucial Conversations QA

Dealing with Resentment at Work

Dear Crucial Skills,

In our hospital, we have a person who made a grave mistake during surgery. As the manager’s pet, she was not disciplined or reprimanded, but anyone else would have been fired on the spot. The rest of the staff noticed the special treatment given to this individual and are extremely resentful. How do I, as one of those staff members, interact with the offending person without letting my resentment show?

Resentful Coworker

Dear Resentful,

We studied this very problem in our research, Silence Kills, and found that 84 percent of healthcare professionals observe colleagues take dangerous shortcuts when working with patients and yet less than 10 percent speak up about their concerns.

I applaud you for raising your concerns. Nobody wants to work in an atmosphere of resentment that could compromise your paramount concern of patient safety. However, the situation you describe is complicated. There are many parties and probably many perspectives on the same set of facts. Let’s begin by examining your concerns.

1. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Think about what you want long-term for yourself, the other person, and for your relationship. This is what I learned from your question:

  • You want fairness and justice. You think your peer is “the manager’s pet,” receives “special treatment,” and perhaps should have been disciplined, reprimanded, or even fired.
  • You want to make sure your team provides patients with the safest, best care possible.
  • You want a positive set of relationships so people don’t feel resentment toward one another.

2. Master your stories. Each of these concerns is based on a set of facts and/or a series of incidents, including the mistake that happened during surgery. But different staff members, and your manager, may interpret these same facts in different ways. All of you are telling yourselves stories about what these facts mean.

Treat your story as a story, not as a fact. Your story should be your best, most honest interpretation of what the facts mean. But also look out for what we call “clever stories”—interpretations that let you off the hook for feeling resentful and letting your feelings show.

Interrogate your story with two questions: a) “Do I really have all the facts I need to be certain my story is true?” and b) “Is there any other story that could fit this same set of facts?” Let’s examine two of the stories you’re telling yourself:

Your story about fairness and justice: What are the facts or incidents that combine to make you tell yourself a story about injustice? How confident are you that your story is true? Here are a few questions to consider:

It sounds as if you are holding your peer accountable for not being disciplined. Shouldn’t that concern be with your manager more than with your peer?

I wonder whether you and your manager are telling yourselves different stories about the “grave mistake.” Your manager may not have witnessed the mistake and that may mean he/she has less information. On the other hand, your manager may have interviewed your colleague as well as others who were there and this information might be both important and confidential.

Your story about patient safety: Any time you have a concern about patient safety you need to deal with it. It’s one of those non-negotiables. However, before you have this crucial conversation, examine your story.

It would be easy to tell yourself the story that your manager is putting friendship above patient safety. That would be a very troubling conclusion. But is it true?

In the old days, errors were often blamed on whoever touched the patient last. Every error was considered “operator error.” Then the pendulum swung toward “system error.” Errors and near misses were seen as caused by faulty processes and procedures rather than individuals. Of course, sensible people demand both capable systems and capable individuals. Neither is sufficient by itself. Do you see how this interplay complicates the stories you and your manager tell about the very same incident?

I don’t have enough information to know whose story is closer to the truth. But I think there is a lot of room for people who value fairness, justice, and patient safety to disagree. Have this conversation with your manager, but don’t assume he or she has bad intentions.

3. Start with the facts, then tentatively share your story. Take the time to prepare for this conversation. Try writing it out as a script and then review it to make sure you:

  • Avoid accusations or any “hot” words or phrases.
  • Begin with your good intentions—what it is you really want. Explain that this conversation is about patient safety. That is your mutual purpose.
  • Start with the facts. These facts include the incidents you are fairly sure you and your manager will agree on. This is your common ground.
  • Tentatively tell your story. Draw the pattern these facts are forming for you. But remember, your manager may see the facts—and almost certainly sees the pattern—differently than you do. Be careful to be respectful of your manager’s story.
  • Stop so that your manager can share his or her perspective. Understand that some of the facts your manager has are likely to be confidential.

I also encourage you to review our latest study, The Silent Treatment, at www.silenttreatmentstudy.com or register for The Silent Treatment learning series to learn how to solve critical communication breakdowns and avoid dangerous mistakes in the hospital.