Teaching People How to Think-largeSafety and Lean go hand in hand in terms of continuous improvement. Whilst lean looks to eliminate waste and increase both efficiency and effectiveness and value of an organisation, safety focus or creating a safety culture engages members to look for. become highly aware of and eliminate hazards that ensure a safer, more secure and less vulnerable working environment for all.

By their very nature, accidents and incidents are something that you don’t see coming.  In the workplace, however, avoiding accidents and incidents is fundamental to creating a safe and productive workplace, so seeing the potential for accidents and incidents,and addressing them before they happen is a basic principle of good management and good danger awareness.

Expecting the unexpected is not as difficult as you might assume either.  That was one of the key messages I was keen to get across when I addressed a group of health & safety managers and senior leaders from the UK’s foremost businesses this week.  My presentation ‘Creating a Safety Culture is Pure Psychology’ at the 2013 RoSPA Occupational Safety and Health Congress in London, was all about looking at the way people behave, understanding the reasons behind their behaviour and using that understanding to drive a more safety conscious culture throughout an organisation.

There are two major obstacles to implementing an effective health and safety culture:

  • It is often seen as a matter of policy rather than responsibility so there needs to be a cultural shift between ‘the company manages it’ and ‘I need to take personal ownership of helping to create a safer work environment for myself and my colleagues’ as part of a wider process of continuous improvement.
  • Identifying safety hazards takes imagination and heightened awareness.  Not only does imagination not come easily to everyone, it’s not part of their core role either, so hazards that may seem obvious once pointed out can easily be overlooked, even where there is a thriving culture of openness and continuous improvement.

So how does a company address that imagination gap?

Simple – train your team to think differently. Give them critical thinking patterns that draw of their imagination.

Using psychology as a basis for understanding how people think and what triggers their need to think differently, then as leaders, investing the time to develop their thinking habits as part of their routine behaviours is the key to creating change.

It’s something that I can demonstrate very simply in a work environment  just by pointing to an item or an area and challenging people to come up with suggestions about how it could be a hazard, what are the most likely injuries and most serious injury – the more outlandish the better. Now time to drive the imagination, have them imagine and picture that injury in all its detail, someone is now becoming associated with the hazard and the injury and this will more likely stick in their mind for most of the day.

Injury Thinking

While some of those risks may be far-fetched, the process of coming up with safety-related ideas challenges people to think differently and anticipate hazards and injuries so that they start becoming more proactively aware of the safety in their workplace and engage with the process of improving it.

Companies spend huge amounts of money of health & safety policies and audits to improve their track record and develop best practice and all of that is important. But embedding health and safety in the DNA of an organisation means developing the ability to anticipate risk in every member of the team and, with a little imagination that is possible.

Think on this:

“A Leaders Role is to Teach People HOW to think”! and how to use their imagination