Build a strong culture: Tips for ‘talking safety’

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Image: Missouri Department of Transportation

No one can keep an entire organization safe on his or her own. Collaboration is needed to create a strong safety culture in which everyone looks out for each other.

There’s no magic formula to make someone heed safety advice. But improving the atmosphere around safety conversations can make it easier to give and receive advice in a graceful, constructive way. Here are some ways you can do that:

Retire the ‘safety police.’ The “gotcha” approach is counterproductive, experts say. When workers feel they’re being policed, they find ways to hide their unsafe behaviors, resulting in lost opportunities for improvement. To make a genuine, long-term impact, take a persuasive approach rather than a punitive one.

Speak the worker’s language. Instead of presenting the information in the way that makes the most sense to the speaker, consider how the worker will receive it. Before saying anything, take a moment to think about who is being spoken to and what he or she cares about, and tailor the conversation to speak to those motivations. And remember: Good communication goes both ways. Instead of doing all the talking, listen to what workers have to say – especially any questions or objections they bring up, which can reveal their motivations.
Demonstrate care and concern. By far, the greatest reason to give a worker for adopting a safe behavior is concern for his or her well-being, and the best way to avoid the appearance of lecturing is to show concern for that person. Be calm and keep emotions in check to help send the right message.
Focus on specifics. To avoid expressing judgment or disapproval and provoking a defensive reaction, limit comments to the precise unsafe behaviors or conditions that were witnessed.
Get (and give) permission. If you’re concerned that well-intentioned advice will come off as intrusive, it may help to set the stage for the safety conversation beforehand.
Lead by example and encourage others to do the same. Workers tend to do what those around them are doing, so it’s essential to demonstrate safe behaviors in addition to talking about them.

A safe drive

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Photo: Jennifer Yario

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace death. Preliminary estimates released in May by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show a 1.2% decrease in motor vehicle-related deaths in 2019 from the previous year.

“While we are heading in the right direction, more work needs to be done to ensure safety on our roadways,” NSC says. Keep it safe every time you get behind the wheel by following these best practices from NSC:

  • Adjust your mirrors to limit your blind spots.
  • Program your GPS before you leave.
  • Set your cellphone to “Do Not Disturb” and put it and any other distracting devices or items away.
  • Adjust your seat so you can reach any knobs and switches.
  • Have an emergency kit stocked and stored in your vehicle. Inspect it before setting off.
  • Make sure you’re in the right head space to drive – free of impairment, distraction and frustration.
  • Obey all traffic signs and posted speed limits.
  • Use your signals and lights when driving.
  • Give pedestrians the right of way.
  • Don’t drive if you’re tired. Try to take a nap before getting behind the wheel.
  • Drive slowly and cautiously in parking lots and garages.
  • Check the potential side effects of your medications before getting behind the wheel.
  • Stop for breaks on long driving trips.
  • Buckle up.
  • Leave yourself enough time to safely reach your destination.

“Any drop in motor vehicle deaths should be well received, but the ultimate goal we need to reach is zero,” NSC says.

Focus on mental health

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Workers might be facing a number of issues during the COVID-19 crisis that can have an impact on mental health, including furloughs and layoffs, social isolation, financial hardships and worries, and health concerns for themselves and their families.

“I’ve heard it said that the next pandemic wave may be mental health,” said Marissa J. Levine, a professor at the University of South Florida, during an April 14 webinar on mental health hosted by NSC. “Honestly, I’m concerned about that. It’s affected every state, every one of us, in some way.”

Employees might be getting information from numerous, and sometimes unreliable, sources at this time. “It’s very difficult, in these anxious times, to catch peoples’ attention,” Eric Goplerud, chair of the board of directors for the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, said during the webinar. “There are 11 words which will help you communicate and break through the anxiety: A simple message, repeated often, from a variety of trusted sources.”

Levine recommended employers and managers follow and share coping strategies from sources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which suggests taking breaks from consuming news reports related to the pandemic, taking time to unwind, working on physical fitness and social connections, setting goals and priorities, and focusing on the facts.

For employers, human resources teams and safety leaders, Goplerud encouraged more communication about benefits programs, such as an employee assistance program. Leaders also should encourage more interaction with benefits vendors.

Employers and managers can share honest updates about COVID-19 while also providing a positive outlook for the path forward.

“There’s a real opportunity here for focusing on the positives without minimizing the issues that we’re dealing with,” Levine said. “Having a can-do attitude and the power of positive thinking are needed now more than ever.”

Help keep COVID-19 at bay: 13 healthy habits and behaviors

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Photo: puckons/iStockphoto

Making personal hygiene and cleanliness a priority are among the 13 healthy behaviors and habits one Ball State University professor says can help lower your risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 – and help you stay healthy in the future.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a health sciences professor, based his research on mechanisms of transmission and characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. His recommendations:

  1. Shower regularly, because COVID-19 can live on surfaces for days.
  2. Keep your clothes clean. Don’t wear the same clothes for several days, and do laundry frequently.
  3. Don’t bite your fingernails or rub your eyes. If you’ve got young kids, discourage them from thumb-sucking.
  4. Try not to scratch your face, head or body.
  5. Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  6. Don’t litter – either inside or outside your home. You don’t want to raise the risk of illness for family members, waste management workers or trash pickers.
  7. Remove all leftovers, trash, masks and gloves from your car and dispose of them.
  8. Maintain good hygiene while growing out hair, beards or nails, or using hair and face accessories.
  9. Cover your face when coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading germs.
  10. Wash your hands after using restrooms, being in public places such as gas stations and grocery stores, or using elevators.
  11. Clean your cellphone and computer devices, along with desk spaces.
  12. Don’t rely on carryout or restaurant deliveries as your only source of meals. Try to add more healthy foods to your diet.
  13. Don’t reuse masks, gloves or personal care devices without cleaning them.
  14. “During and after the pandemic crisis, we need greater awareness, collective action and common civic behaviors driven by scientific evidence on transmission of emerging infectious disease agents such as coronaviruses,” Khubchandani said in an April 28 press release. “We must not hesitate from educating or questioning family members, colleagues and the general public on behaviors that pose danger.”

Lead: Don’t take it home

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Are you exposed to lead at work? You may be if you make or fix batteries or radiators; make or paint ceramics; melt, cast or grind lead, brass or bronze; tear down or remodel houses, buildings or bridges; or work with scrap metal, the California Department of Public Health says.

Short-term lead exposure can cause headaches, irritability, memory loss, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Prolonged exposure can cause depression, nausea, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and reduced fertility. Read more»

10 tips for starting a workplace safety and health program

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Photo: PeopleImages/iStockphoto

Does your workplace lack a safety and health program? If you’re looking to create one, OSHA offers 10 tips to get you going.

  1. Make safety and health a core value. Ensure workers know that having them go home safely each night is the way you do business. Let them know their health is a top concern, and make it clear that any hazards will be taken seriously and addressed.
  2. Show workers your organization cares about their safety by making safety part of daily interactions with employees.
  3. Create a well-communicated, simple reporting system workers can use to report injuries, illnesses or incidents, such as near misses. Workers need to know that they won’t be retaliated against, so include an option to make the process anonymous.
  4. Educate workers on identifying and controlling potential hazards.
  5. Regularly conduct inspections with workers, and ask them to help identify issues that concern them regarding safety.
  6. Make workers part of the safety process by asking them for hazard control ideas. “Provide them time during work hours, if necessary, to research solutions,” OSHA advises.
  7. Have workers choose, implement and evaluate hazard control solutions.
  8. Determine foreseeable emergency situations that may arise, and have a plan in place on how to handle them. Display procedure signs in visible areas of the workplace.
  9. Before making significant changes, consult with employees about potential safety and health issues.
  10. Always aim for improvement. “Set aside a regular time to discuss safety and health issues, with the goal of identifying ways to improve the program,” OSHA recommends.