Introduction

Have you ever noticed how supervisors who have good relationships with their crews tend to have safer crews? In fact, good relationships tend to be associated with all kinds of good performance. Why would this be so? What do relationships have to do with safety?

Discretionary Effort

The link is discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is that effort which employees can give at work, but don't have to. Discretionary effort is going above the basic requirements, and it rarely occurs in the context of poor employee-management relationships. Many people think of safety as a compliance issue—getting people to comply with safety rules, regulations, and procedures. However, if you want to go beyond compliance and create a high-performance safety culture, discretionary effort is a requirement. Truly exceptional safety requires that people don't just follow procedures, comply with OSHA standards, and wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Exceptional safety happens when people look for and report hazards, give peers feedback on safe and at-risk behavior, and most difficult of all, admit when they have made mistakes so lessons can be learned. You don't get this kind of engagement in safety when employees dislike, distrust, and (most importantly) fear their boss. If people think being honest about a safety infraction will lead to reprimands and discipline, then they won't be open and honest. In other words, you won't get discretionary effort.

Discretionary effort is only created through the use of positive reinforcement. Research shows that when people are recognized for what they do well around safety and when reporting problems and concerns is met with reinforcing consequences (such as joint problem solving and problem resolution), employees will be more engaged in safety.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.