Are You Priming your Employees to Work Safely or Take Risks?

July 19, 2016
Listen closely: Are the words and actions of supervisors and managers at odds with your company’s safety message?

Imagine you are part of a team that has been assigned a particularly difficult maintenance job. It will take three craftsmen at least eight hours to complete this task. Your supervisor (Jeff) is coordinating a long list of planned jobs as part of a large shutdown. Before you go to the work site, Jeff provides a pre-job brief:

“We have to replace the large pump in the northwest corner of the basement. As you know, it's in a very tight space with no headroom and there isn't much ventilation or lighting down there, so make sure you hook up a fan and some temporary lighting.”

He tells you it is a “critical path job,” so you need to start it ASAP because the production line will be waiting on the job to be completed before they can restart the line. He also tells you that the company is behind on shipping orders, so upper management is applying pressure.

He asks you to keep breaks to a minimum and says, “If you run into any problems and aren't sure what to do - use your judgment and do whatever takes. I know I can count on you guys to get this job done right and on time. And be safe.”

With this conversation, Jeff significantly increased the likelihood that someone on this crew will incur an injury. Why? Let's look at the words or phrases that he used: critical path, ASAP, waiting, behind, minimum breaks, etc.

Do you see the pattern? Jeff planted numerous seeds for the team to work quickly. In so doing, he introduced a factor which is proven to increase risk – rushing. The team may complete the job quickly, but they will take additional risks to do it.

Priming Experiments

Behavioral psychologists have proven that exposing people to a series of words with the same theme can have a significant influence on their subsequent actions. This initially was demonstrated through a series of classic priming experiments.

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