The Value of Mentoring in Safety
By Eric Johnson
When our organization engages clients, one of the first steps we perform in our assessments centers around establishing a baseline regarding the safety culture climate within the organization at all levels. These questions center around elements such as “What is the overall view of safety within the organization?”; “How do employees react to injuries – both to themselves and to others?”; “How does safety messaging impact employees”. The answers to these questions often depend on both the current safety climate but also historical data. Within the conversational aspect of our assessments, we often come across a common theme that can enhance and support a growing safety culture – the component of mentoring within safety.
This is important because:
1. It provides a way for new employees to informally discuss safety aspects of the organization
2. Allows for senior employees to demonstrate and own their safety to junior members
3. It sets up a continuous feedback where new employees become senior employees and further mentor new employees
New employees are particularly impressionable for a number of reasons. First, as starting out in their career, they have yet to have the experiences that mold behaviors outside of traditional and established rules. Secondly, these employees are trying to fit into the front-line culture as they see fit – as to how they can make their lives easiest from a social perspective as they perform their work duties. By setting up a mentoring program specifically around safety, this highlights the importance of safety within the organization, separate from the apprentice/journeyman traditional relationship. Junior employees that may be concerned in voicing safety issues or feel as if speaking on safety makes them “less tough”, now have an outlet to discuss both the “clear cut” safety rules and those more ambiguous situations where conversation can lead to greater insights. Within the confines of private conversations, junior employees have the comfort to express greater thinking into safety issues and can even be a source of new solutions.
Mentoring is a valuable component of any good safety program that reinforces a good safety culture
However, in order to have such open levels of discussion, it is important to ensure that the senior employees are both comfortable in having these discussions and also are fully vested in the safety culture / messaging of the organization. And this is not an easy task - it is an intensely top-down approach and must take into account the maturity of the organization. Foremen/mid-level managers need to understand the importance of safety culture within the organization and how their actions impact how their direct reports view and react to safety. For example, saying that safety is the most important element of work – and then saying that work hasn’t been done fast enough – sends conflicting messages that speed and safety are incompatible. Instead, those managers need to understand that safety impacts how work is done and should re-evaluate work processes to ensure that safety is a core component and that time is allocated to safe work practices. Only then can the organization promote mentoring – the aspects of the environment in which work is performed must be a critical part of this.
Once this synergy between the work being performed and the safety incentives promoted are maximized, it is then that the organization can position itself to have mentoring reinforce its safety culture. And as the conversations become more ingrained in the organization, it will promote openness in other aspects of the organization. Most importantly, it is self-generating – as others see mentoring championed and the comfort level it brings, engagement will rise and the maturity level will increase with benefit for all involved.