Use the HAT Principle to Improve Safety Culture
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
We are continually asked by leaders some variant of the question below:
“We provide all the PPE and safety policies for our employees and they still get hurt. What else can we do?”
One way to address this issue to use the HAT principle which involves Hearing your people, Addressing their concerns, and Telling everyone improvements you’ve made based on their feedback. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, many leaders have not fostered a learning environment within their organizations. Getting and using employee feedback is simply not a cultural norm. As a result, important organizational decisions are often made in a vacuum by people that don’t have a sufficient understanding of how the work actually gets done. This is not a knock on busy, conscientious leaders. It’s simply a reflection of the inertia that sets in as leaders and employees deal with day-to-day challenges. A system to employ the HAT principle hasn’t been established. Let’s take a closer look at each HAT element:
H – Hear your employees.
This is different from simply “listening.” Leaders need to hear and feel issues, concerns, and suggestions that employees have regarding the world of work. The best solutions are often developed by the people on the job, doing the job. It’s no accident that the use of learning teams designed for just this purpose are beginning to flourish across the country. As a quick example, one company was struggling with close calls and minor (fortunately) incidents involving heavy forktruck traffic inside a large production line and warehouse. Leaders provided training on forktruck safety which included things like honking at intersections, checking mirrors, backing with loads etc. Although this training was helpful, some engaged employees said the real issue was the way the product line was set up which involved conveyors and surrounding warehouse racks. Working with employees, supervisors, engineers and the safety department, this company found a way to streamline operations which greatly decreased forktruck traffic in the area. Bottom line: Leaders were open to employee suggestions, heard their ideas, and created a much safer work environment.
A – Address employees’ concerns in an Active manner.
We’ve heard numerous employees over the years tell us their suggestions and concerns “go into a black hole” and never get resolved. We’ll often hear just how many months (or years) it’s been since they brought up an issue which didn’t get resolved. This leads to anger and frustration and the belief that leaders “just don’t care.” Taking active steps to address employee concerns, however big or small, improves safety and overall morale. As a quick example, one employee suggested building a dome (like the Superdome) over a large outdoor construction site in order to combat growing numbers of heat stroke issues they were having. Clearly, the safety person wasn’t going to make this happen. He did, however, set up Gatorade coolers and large fans around the site and created mandatory “cool off” periods every hour to prevent further instances of heat-related problems. This person actively addressed a legitimate safety concern from employees.
T – Tell everyone about the improvements you’ve made!
As mentioned, people get angry when it feels like their concerns are ignored. The irony is that we’ll often meet with safety professionals who show us pages of spreadsheets showing safety improvements. However, this information is not (or is poorly) shared with employees. Safety is, in part, a marketing game. Leaders need to advertise improvements! Sharing improvements made based on employee feedback reinforces a responsive, learning environment and demonstrates legitimate commitment to employees’ safety and well-being. It will also encourage considerably more effort and engagement from employees who want to get involved to make further improvements.
Leaders should tell everyone about improvements being made through meetings, training sessions, individual and group conversations, town hall meetings, emails, newsletters and as many other outlets as possible. This shows they understand the value of employee feedback, are conscientiously trying to help, and are fully engaged to keep people safe. Also, everything can’t be fixed all at once or to the level people desire. Leaders need to update people and let them know what steps are being taken to address their concerns within realistic timeline and financial parameters. No news is NOT good news. Keep people updated.
Call to Action
Use the HAT principle to improve your safety culture. This will improve safety behaviors and boost morale. The discretionary effort it fuels will be an added bonus.
At Propulo, we work with leaders to implement HAT principles to increase safety ownership and prevent serious injuries and fatalities. For more information on this topic, read about Safety & Safety Culture at Propulo Consulting.