Why We Must Redefine Safety at Work!

Abundance Accountability Respect


The problem: The definition of what constitutes safety at work is too narrow, and as a result I believe we have incomplete safety measures in almost all organizations. Making physical safety a priority in any workplace should be the norm, especially when the job is inherently hazardous. We have access to the technology, knowledge, and right management philosophy to keep people physically safe. Fortunately over the last few decades, the highest occupation health and safety standards have become an intentional objective of the best organizations, rather than simply regulatory compliance. Unfortunately, organizations in many developing nations still have a way to go, (you’ve likely seen YouTube videos of people working in horrendous, hazardous, environments). Today, NO modern, global organization has any excuse but to demand the highest physical safety performance in all facilities including, but not limited to its subcontractors. Physical safety is ONE side of the subject, AND now I believe it’s time to add in psychological safety as well!

Story: This past week, I spent time with the CEOs of two first class organizations. Both compete in inherently hazardous industries. The first thing each leader talked about when I asked them how 2018 ended, was their focus on safety, and how proud they were of stellar results. This is great! However when I ask top leaders in just about any organization about their psychological safety status, the typical response is “crickets” and blank stares. My recommendation: It is time for every organization to expand the safety focus to include psychological safety!

Why it’s important? The following quote is from Harvard’s thought leader, author, and top researcher on psychological safety, Amy Edmondson: “In my research over the past 20 years, I’ve shown that a factor I call psychological safety helps explain differences in performance in workplaces that include hospitals, factories, schools, and government agencies. Moreover, psychological safety matters for groups as disparate as those in the C-suite of a financial institution and on the front lines of the intensive care unit… Psychological safety is not immunity from consequences, nor is it a state of high self-regard. In psychologically safe workplaces, people know they might fail, they might receive performance feedback that says they’re not meeting expectations, and they might lose their jobs due to changes in the industry environment or even to a lack of competence in their role. These attributes of the modern workplace are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. But in a psychologically safe workplace, people are not hindered by interpersonal fear. They feel willing and able to take the inherent interpersonal risks of candor. They fear holding back their full participation more than they fear sharing a potentially sensitive, threatening, or wrong idea. The fearless organization is one in which interpersonal fear is minimized so that team and organizational performance can be maximized in a knowledge intensive world. It is not one devoid of anxiety about the future.”

If you find this helpful, here are some things you might do:

  1. Begin to really understand psychological safety, what it is, what it is not, how to assess it, and most importantly be willing do something about it.
  2. Put as much effort into promoting and measuring psychological safety as you do physical safety, and you will positively impact your organization more profoundly than you can imagine. This is a unique opportunity to be a pioneer on this matter!
  3. Read Edmondson’s “The Fearless Organization.” Learn from the best.

Think big, start small and act now!

Lorne Rubis

One Millennial View: I can understand how on a surface level, something like “psychological safety” might sound like a bunch of heebo, mumbo jumbo, and could result in the “crickets and blank stares” mentioned above. However, it doesn’t take a ton of reflection to appreciate the value and benefit of feeling comfortable to fully participate at work, and I’m eager to learn more about this subject as the week goes on.

– Garrett

Blog 670

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis