7 Habits of Highly Effective Safety and Health Professionals

June 26th, 2024

Mention the word habits to a safety and health manager, and their thoughts will probably turn to teaching employees to develop safe behaviors. But in a recent Captive Resources Risk Control Webinar, Jason Kunz, who has more than a decade of experience in various roles for the 3M Company, argued that safety leaders need to foster their own good habits to help keep their employees healthy and safe.

Read on for a summary of his presentation and a recap of seven habits safety leaders can use to improve workplace safety.

The 4H Principle for Engaging with Employees on Safety

Before explaining the seven habits, Kunz proposed an overarching philosophy that safety leaders should use to authentically engage their teams about safety, which he called the “4H Principle.” Because only 15%–20% of companies have a consistent engagement process, he estimated, the need for this philosophy is critical.

No. 1: Handshake

According to Kunz, a handshake creates rapport and a level of human connection that would otherwise take three hours of conversation to establish. Safety and health programs tend to be characterized by rules, but “rules without relationships create resistance,” he said.

No. 2: High Five

Effective safety leaders provide specific, consistent, and authentic praise and recognition to their people every day. According to a Gallup & Workhuman study, doubling the number of times employees are praised in a business with 10,000 people results in considerable improvement in several metrics:

  • $92.8 million worth of productivity gains.
  • $3.2 million in savings from fewer unscheduled absences.
  • A 22% decrease in safety incidents.

No. 3: Hug

Employees now demand essential listening, empathy, connection, and self-awareness from safety leaders — a “hug,” figuratively speaking. An oil rig company developed these skills in its safety leaders and allowed employees to feel comfortable talking about their mistakes. The company improved every key measurable safety metric, including an 84% reduction in safety incidents.

No. 4: Hangouts

Interacting with workers in person can help safety leaders better understand their operations and the inherent risk exposures. The COVID-19 pandemic diminished in-person interactions in many companies, so their safety leaders have work to do in this area.

The 7 Habits

Kunz concluded the webinar by introducing the seven habits, which were based on more than 300 interviews of safety leaders over more than a decade.

No. 1: Have and Keep a Frontline Perspective

Effective safety leaders have a frontline — rather than a front office — mentality. They deploy 4H practices and maintain proximity with employees. “See and Act Leadership Activities” provide guidance for authentic frontline employee engagement:

  • Recognize someone for their exemplary environmental health and safety (EHS) activity.
  • Discuss EHS frustrations, concerns, or suggestions with an employee.
  • Conduct an EHS walk or inspection with a worker.
  • Review a work activity or procedure with a worker.
  • Engage in a pre- or post-shift huddle.

No. 2: Maintain a 4:1 Praise to Correction Ratio

High-performance safety organizations praise employees at a “Golden Ratio” of four times for every correction on safety issues. Significantly, they praise and correct their people on the spot.

No. 3: Obsess Over Essential Skill Development

Asking the right questions and listening attentively is an essential skill for effective safety leaders. Asking novel questions elicits novel answers from employees, whose point of view is indispensable to a safe workplace. A good example is, “What will be the next incident in this area, and where will it occur?”

No. 4: Believe in the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Safety and Health Excellence

Every company with which Kunz has worked that has achieved safety and health excellence has established three safety priorities in the following order:

  • Leadership – Safety ownership and accountability are set in place from the top down.
  • Standards – These are communicated clearly and known throughout the organization.
  • Engagement – Employees are involved in continuous safety improvement.

No. 5: Emphasize and Encourage the H in EHS

The H (Health) in EHS has yet to receive the attention it deserves. Kunz and the Conference Board Chief EH&S Officers Council conducted a study indicating that 61% of workers feel lonely and 80% feel significantly more stress and anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic began, among other findings. To give the H more attention, emphasize Whole Person Health.

No. 6: Embrace ‘Micro-Experimentation’

Workplace safety improvements occur when safety leaders innovate. To enable small daily improvements, identify work practices well suited to micro-experiments. It’s critical to ensure that micro-experiments have built-in feedback to monitor progress.

No. 7: Live Mentorship and Sponsorship

Mentor employees on safe work practices so they improve. Sponsor them so that they excel. View employees in the way you think they could work safely, not how safely they are currently working.

About the Webinar

This presentation was part of Captive Resources’ Risk Control Webinar Series — regular installments of webinars to educate the group captive members we work with on topics like workplace safety, organizational leadership, and company performance. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these webinars are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect Captive Resources’ positions on any of the above topics.

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