Building Trust for Safety: Trust Is a Cornerstone of an Effective Safety Program. These Steps Can Help You Nurture Trust in Your Organization

By Pater, Robert | Occupational Hazards, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Building Trust for Safety: Trust Is a Cornerstone of an Effective Safety Program. These Steps Can Help You Nurture Trust in Your Organization


Pater, Robert, Occupational Hazards


My friend's father was a plant electrician before he got hurt. Highly skilled guy, very bright and motivated to excel at whatever he puts his hands on. But that's the problem. He can't easily put his hands on anything. He has no ability to torque/twist his wrist, due to cumulative injury to small carpal bones in his hands. After corrective surgery, he was supposed to be on light duty to heal but his supervisor changed his job title and had him work his old job. He wound up permanently hurt. His employer denied his long-term disability claim on a technicality. He ran out of savings trying to hire an attorney to fight his case. He can't work--can't even help his daughter install a fan in her new house. He feels terrible, and all his coworkers know about this and remain angry.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It's probably no surprise that employee trust for leadership is low, and that this affects safety performance. There's some good news; a recent Watson Wyatt study of nearly 13,000 workers reveals that trust levels are rising slightly. The percentage of employees who express trust and confidence in their senior executives increased from 44 percent in 2002 to 51 percent in 2004 (back to about the same levels as 2000). The bad news is that, even with this rise, about half of all workers don't trust their leaders.

Less than one-third of workers believe their company does a good job of helping poor performers improve. My experience is consistent with this data; very few organizations do an effective job helping those who've had repeat accidents get out of their "frequent flier" pattern.

Why bother? Because trust can provide a competitive edge. An International Association of Business Communicators study associated high levels of trust with improved profitability and customer satisfaction. Employee trust boosts program and procedural buy-in, helps the learning of new skills, raises efficiency and provides you and your company with a competitive edge. Trust me, if you can become skilled as a trust builder, you will always be respected and in demand.

What can you personally do to boost trust for safety performance?

1. Acknowledge employees' concerns as valid and that they may have good reason for suspicion. Let them know when you have mixed reactions to new procedures or policies, rather than maintaining an all-is-wonderful front. Root out--don't wait--for mixed messages that are broadcast in the name of safety ("Hurry up, but don't take shortcuts"). Be the one to find inconsistencies first in policies, promotional or contractor requirements. Let them know when you've made mistakes (abolish know-it-all-ism and never-wrongism). Practice tolerance for different learning and communication styles, as well as levels of risk tolerance.

2. Seek out and reply. …

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