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Safety from the Shadows

SafeStart senior consultant Kevin Cobb at a book signing

When workers have casual conversations about safety, what they have to say can have a dramatic impact on the overall view of safety initiatives. If even a few employees have a negative attitude towards a safety program, they can begin to influence others into sharing their view.

As Kevin Cobb explains in his article Safety From the Shadows: The Problem of Informal Social Power in Industrial Safety, which was recently published by Occupational Health and Safety, H&S professionals should pay attention to employee perception of safety, especially if they start noticing disengaged workers sitting at the back of every training session and safety talk.

There is a solution to dissolving informal social networks that are unduly influencing safety culture—but it might not be what you think:

If you have a problem with your safety culture and employee engagement—that is, if informal networks are exerting negative social power on your safety program—then look for ways to give these informal networks more power, not less. Build a bigger and more inclusive safety institution at your company. Include employees in both formal and informal safety committees, discussions, and plans. As counter-intuitive as it seems, the reason giving them more power is so effective is that bringing oppositional employees into the fold makes it much harder for them to complain about the company’s overall safety functions—because now they’re part of it.

You can read the entire article online here.

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