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Combatting the “safety is for wimps” mindset

  • SIMA
- Posted: October 24, 2017


Focusing on safety in a profession in which working for 20 hours straight is touted as a badge of honor can be difficult. If you or your snow and ice team has a “safety is for wimps” mentality, your focus should turn to creating a better internal safety culture.

Judy Crandell, Division Environmental, Health and Safety Manager for Caterpillar Inc. – Building Construction Products, shared her insight with SIMA on how to put safety first.

Crandell has a long history of helping cultivate safer places so that “employees can go home at the end of the day in the same way that they came to work in.” She focuses on making sure people know what really is at stake when it comes to safety.

She says most traditional safety programs focus on analyzing metrics and following rules, with an emphasis on identifying unsafe conditions. Instead, Crandell recommends focusing more on people’s behaviors, and the motivations behind those behaviors, to understand and improve your safety culture.

As an example, she said that a common myth is that not using your seatbelt while operating a forklift will make it easier to jump clear of the equipment if it tips. By asking the right questions and understanding that misconception by talking with the employee about their at risk behavior, instead of just telling the employee to put their seat belt on, a people-first safety culture can engage those employees with the proper training and education. You can either tell them to wear their seatbelt every time you see them without it, or you can help them gain a new understanding and motivate them to change their behavior, even when no one is looking, she says.

Here are some tips on how to start investing in a people-first safety culture:

Enable peer leadership
Certain employees/personalities will naturally be more focused on and care about safety. Empower them to show leadership in safety. The power of a positive peer role model can go a long way for employees who may not focus on safety as much as they should. People always believe in what they help build, so get employees involved.

Walk the walk
Directors or managers must demonstrate their personal commitment to safety at all times. If employees see management taking shortcuts, they will see that as permission for them to do the same. Crandell has estimated that if a person in a leadership position makes one poor safety choice, they must demonstrate that same act safely seven to ten times to erase the damage.

Recognize vs. Reward
Rewarding people for safe behaviors can be risky, and often only rewards the select few who demonstrate above-average safety behaviors, while missing those who perform the job safely every day. Instead, recognize safe behaviors and attitudes in your employees. It can be as simple as creating a safety board, highlighting employee’s safe choices and recognizing those acts for the positive culture they reinforce. The more times you recognize safe behaviors, the more employees will keep doing those behaviors.

Make it personal

When discussing safety with employees, make sure you connect with them at a personal level. Share stories and thoughts about the impact on their personal lives if they were injured. What would the impact be on them and their families if they got hurt?

Building a better safety culture will take time, and Crandell encourages anyone embarking on that journey to think of it as a process that is never fully complete - there are always ways to focus on and improve safe behaviors over time.

Additional resources

  • The National Safety Council (
  • “The Psychology of Safety Handbook” by Scott Geller
  • “The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error” by Sidney Dekker
  • “Actively Caring for People’s Safety: How to Create a Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper Work Culture” by Scott Geller
  • “Actively Caring for People: Cultivating a Culture of Compassion” by Scott Geller
View all 2017 Snow Safety week articles and content here. Thank you to our sponsors Caterpillar, BOSS Snowplow, and RAM Trucks
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