Behavioural safety – How to deal with union opposition

One of the biggest hurdles for implementing a behavioural safety program in an organisation is union opposition. Having experienced it first hand at a manufacturing facility with a strong union operations work group, I appreciate the safety managers concerns. To say the experience was character building is an understatement but it was an invaluable learning experience.

Primarily the issues of the operators and the broader union community seem to centre around two main areas:

1. Behavioural safety is design to highlight workers mistakes therefore blaming them for the injury (the blame game), and
2. Hazard elimination and providing a safe place of work is the only way to keep people safe so any effort not spent working on hazards is wasted.

In my mind these are issues created by leaders in the business and therefore can be addressed by the leaders in the business.

The first can be easily solved by openly stating the intention of the program. Helping workers develop the target behaviours that keep them away from hazards and the only result from the observation and feedback is a positive interaction. No negative outcomes for observations…period! No discipline, warnings, sackings, etc only opportunities to learn. If your workforce thinks management is blaming them then management needs to look at how it deals with incidents.

The second is a bit more tricky but basically involves a communication program to highlight how many hazards are reported and removed from the work area. Showing the workforce what is being done to remove hazards.

In my example, I was able to share with the workforce the fact that in an 18 month period, we had over 2500 hazard/near miss reports and a close out of 92%. A figure most were not aware of until we looked for it.

To do this though does require recording the hazards and what is done to remove or rectify but a good safety management system should have this in place already. If your system doesn’t record hazards then put one in place before rolling out behavioural safety. You cannot show how you are managing hazards if you don’t have a system.

So dealing with these two issues is pretty straightforward and is actually an opportunity to build trust with the workforce when it is done correctly. I’ve seen the benefits so take the challenge. Safety in the business with be the winner.

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