By Karen L. Cates, PhD
In the past, I’ve written about the need to get into the mind and the heart of the roofing worker to drive safety at work. Training is important, but so is the emotional connection that makes safety feel like it’s the right thing to do – especially when workers find themselves making decisions on site in the midst of competing goals or demands.
Enter Amy Edmonson, a Harvard Business School researcher, who is pioneering a concept called “psychological safety” – in roofing, this is the perception a worker has of the consequences of pointing out a potential safety hazard or violation. How this plays out on the job site is critical to driving safety. Will he be perceived as ignorant, incompetent, negative or disruptive? Or can he communicate freely in the knowledge that others will listen to him and address his concern or observation? Will the team back him up and address the problem? Or is he going to be ignored, subject to rolled eyeballs, ridicule or worse?
In a psychologically safe workplace, employees feel confident that no one on their team will embarrass or punish anyone else for pointing out a mistake or asking a question. It all starts with leadership. How can contractors, superintendents and foreman foster the communication channels needed to identify and address safety concerns before they become a problem? Edmonson has a number of recommendations:
Driving safety into the minds and hearts of your workers is a long game that benefits workers, contractors and the industry. There may be short term gains for cutting corners on safety, but the costs can be catastrophic. By creating a psychologically safe workplace, contractors can help mitigate the risk of safety violations by making it a part of “the way we do business” for employees to call it when they see it, reaping long-term benefits for all.
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