How to create more engagement for safety
In E. Scott Geller’s ISHN columns (April and
May, 2008), he reviewed 12 evidence-based strategies for developing resilience
to emotional pain and suffering. This article offers an alternative perspective
by showing how you can tap emotional energy as a way to motivate action for
The words motivation and emotion come from the same Latin
root movere, which means “to move.” Both motivation and emotion spur us into
action. We should activate people’s emotions to motivate them to pay more
attention to environmental and behavioral risks and act accordingly.
Make safety personal
A powerful way to increase
participation in safety-related programs is to teach and motivate with personal
stories. I experienced this with my friend, Charlie Morecraft.
have seen Charlie tell his riveting story, either in person or on videotape.
Audiences sit on the edge of their seats as Charlie relates the details of his
severe burn injury at an Exxon oil refinery, including the painful and long-term
consequences to himself and his immediate family.
He projects authentic
feelings throughout his presentation and evokes emotional reaction from
attentive spectators. Observers increase their commitment to safety — heightened
motivation to do whatever is necessary to prevent personal injury and the kind
of physical and psychological suffering endured by Charlie Morecraft.
The why and the how of safety
occasions I’ve had the privilege of teaming with Charlie for presentations at
professional development conferences and at industrial sites. Charlie tells his
story first, and then I follow. First I ask the audience to be mindful of their
current emotional feelings, triggered by Charlie’s story. That emotional state
motivates them to listen carefully to practical ways to keep people safe and to
make a personal commitment to use these techniques on a daily basis.
claims he is the “why” for taking extra time and inconvenience for safety. He
sets the stage for my follow-up talk by telling the audience I will discuss the
“how.” After people’s emotional reaction to hearing the horrific consequences
Charlie suffered because he didn’t follow prescribed safety regulations, they
are receptive to learning what they can do to prevent personal injury. In this
case, emotion benefits both learning and motivation for safety-related
Motivating engagement for safety
Morecraft tells his emotional story several times a week at companies around the
world. Listeners feel immediate self-motivation to actively care for the safety
of themselves and others. They become more mindful of environmental hazards and
participate more enthusiastically in their workplace safety programs, from
paying more attention at team safety meetings to delivering and accepting
feedback about safe versus at-risk behavior. But how long does this heightened
interest in occupational safety last?
Before long, the emotionally-laden memories of Charlie’s story
fade, along with self-motivation to go beyond the call of duty for injury
prevention. For many, the natural activators and consequences of the daily work
routine take control again, and they revert to giving safety a lower priority
than the efficient, sometimes at-risk, completion of work assignments.
if you were periodically reminded of the personal side of safety? What if
someone at your workplace reminded you of the motivational emotions you once
experienced from a person’s safety-related testimony? This would happen
naturally if the testimonials came from your co-workers. If you cultivate a
culture that encourages employees to discuss their injuries and close calls,
workers’ emotions and motivation for safety can be regularly provoked.
An illustrative example
Does the right hand in the photo to the right elicit any
motivational emotion for safety? Probably not; although, you might feel
disturbed, sadness, or sympathy for the individual. Such was the case for the
co-workers of Rich, a highly regarded engineer at a construction company. This
all changes when Rich tells his story.
Rich is not shy about his deformity. Whenever he is introduced
to someone, he immediately offers his right hand for a hearty greeting.
Co-workers have questioned the cause of Rich’s disabled hand to one another, but
not to Rich. One day the safety director of this construction firm stopped
ignoring the obvious and with authentic compassion asked Rich, “What happened to
With openness and enthusiasm, Rich shared his personal story.
He related his experience to me in a phone conversation. As a 22-year-old
student, Rich worked at a lumber company in Brookville, Pa., to complete a
required ten-week forestry internship. Rich was directed to use a milling
machine he knew was risky because the guards had been removed for efficiency and
faster production. He mentioned this to his immediate supervisor, who then
reported the problem to the owner. The owner ignored the issue.
this unguarded machine for 49 days, it happened. In a split second, Rich’s right
arm was pulled into the feed rollers which began grinding up his hand like
hamburger. Realizing immediately the milling machine could swallow up his entire
body, Rich pulled his bloody limb from the engulfing rollers.
the excruciating pain he experienced, not only at the time of his injury, but
throughout his six months in the hospital while enduring 13 operations that
enabled him to save parts of his hand. Rich also discussed the negative
consequences of having a deformed hand, including his observation that young
children avoid him with looks of fear.
Hearing Rich’s ordeal over the phone was enough to make me
pause and reflect on my good fortune of having two normal hands. I also
considered the hand protection I’ve used over the years when chopping firewood,
using a chainsaw, and biking. Rich’s story not only elicited some emotion, it
also triggered mental imagery that forced me to reflect and gave me both
direction and motivation. The value of more people hearing this personal story
The bottom line
Because the safety director
had the courage to ask an employee about a prior injury, and because the
employee had the courage to share his personal story with others, many workers
at this construction firm have experienced heartfelt emotion linked to safety.
It’s likely this emotion increased several individuals’ self-motivation to do
the right thing for injury prevention, not only for themselves but also for
E. Scott Geller, Ph.D.
E. Scott Geller, Ph.D., is Alumni Distinguished Professor,
Virginia Tech, and Senior Partner, Safety Performance Solutions. Dr. Geller and
his partners at SPS help companies worldwide apply human dynamics to industrial
safety and beyond. Coastal Training and Technologies Corporation has published
Dr. Geller’s books on People-Based Safety, including his latest: Leading
People-Based Safety. For more information, log on to www.people-based-safety.com,
call SPS at (540) 951-7233, or Coastal at (800) 767-7703, ext 3313.
I actually found this article here: http://www.ishn.com/CDA/Articles/Column/BNP_GUID_9-5-2006_A_10000000000000349153
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