Are your supervisors and managers bullying your employees into complying with safety rules?
In the January issue of Professional Safety, the Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers, E. Scott Geller, Ph. D. discusses bullying behavior in the context of safety management and gives some examples of where it can turn up.
"Behavior from a manager, supervisor, coach, colleague or guardian can be perceived as bullying even though the intention was not to cause harm or distress," Geller states. In safety management, bullying behavior, although well-intentioned, discourages employees and prevents them from meaningfully engaging in injury-prevention programs.
Behavior, whether intentional or not, rises to the level of bullying when the following are present:
- Repeated actions toward another person that are perceived as negative. For example, being repeatedly lectured for not following a safety rule or procedure.
- The behavior is destructive to the relationship between the parties.
- There is a power imbalance at play, i.e., a supervisor talking down to an employee.
Geller gives many examples of management and supervisor behaviors that can lead to bullying. Here are three examples.
- Misuse of Discipline - Traditional safety discipline, such as a lecture from the manager or supervisor after an injury or near miss occurs, is unpleasant for the employee and does not encourage the employee to take personal responsibility for his or her behavior. Instead he or she is being "talked down" to by upper management which makes it less likely they will want to engage in future safety programs or initiatives.
- Misuse of the Accident Investigation Process - The accident investigation process can be a powerful tool for engaging employees in safety and improving work processes to prevent future injuries. However, if the leader of the investigation misuses the process and turns it into a hunt to find out which employee was at fault, employees will not trust the process and be less likely to cooperate in the future.
- Zero Injury Goals - While the intent behind setting a goal of zero injuries may be good, in reality, setting extremely high goals that are unlikely to be met can be perceived as bullying. It is great to set safety goals, but safety goals tend to be more effective if they are focused on safe behaviors (such as getting to 95% compliance on a particular safety rule) rather than an arbitrary number of injuries.