The New Rules of Safety
The New Rules of Safety: Safety is a virus
In the latest edition of the New Rules of Safety series, Andrew Sharman looks at what we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic and how those learnings can be applied to safety.
Well, we’re 18 months into COVID-19 and things still seem quite uncertain, don’t they? Variants and vaccines, rules and requirements, this way or that way… It seems like there’s still lots we don’t understand about the coronavirus.
So, what do we know? Well, we know that it spreads person to person. It’s infectious. We catch it from others. And I reckon this could be an interesting way to think about safety.
Emotions are infectious
When a friend suffers a loss, it’s hard for us not to become bound by the same feelings as we empathise and grieve with them. As you gather round to watch a relative blow out the candles on their birthday cake, you can’t help but feel her excitement and smile too. What’s happening here? At the University of San Diego, James Fowler and Nick Christakis found that emotions are infectious – just like the coronavirus. For example, if you have a happy friend, the chance of you becoming happier when you’re around them jumps by nearly 25%.
And behaviours are contagious
The same San Diego study revealed that if you have an overweight amigo, your chances of reaching for a Big Mac rise when you eat with them. But if a buddy signs up for a local fun run, it’s more likely you’ll also sign up. And towards the end of an evening out we’ve all felt the pulling power of the phrase “one for the road?”, right? These are all examples of what scientists call ‘social contagion’ and it’s likely that it stems from our intrinsic desire to want to ‘fit in’ and ‘go with the flow’ – particularly with those we hold in esteem, such as family and friends.
But does this social contagion operate in the workplace? In the Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman present results of a study that reveal 30 different behaviours can be actively transferred from leaders to managers to employees. They found that positive behaviours – including integrity, honesty, decisiveness and cooperation – can be directly passed from person to person.
Leadership is everything you do…
Unsurprisingly, negative behaviours like poor communication skills, selfishness and dishonesty can also trickle down individually from level to level of an organisation’s hierarchical structure. The report found that senior leaders doing a sub-optimal job erode not only the engagement levels of direct reports, but also the engagement of those working for them. Fortunately, the opposite also holds true: if you’re a great leader, your positive behaviour engages your team and your team’s team. It’s a win-win-win. This study reinforces a message we often share with our clients: “Leadership is everything you do, and everything you don’t do”.
In safety we may often wonder whether we are truly making an impact. Remember that behaviour change is often subtle and occurs over time. Time to think about your own behaviour for a moment: maybe there’s one or two aspects or bad habits you’re not especially proud of or feel embarrassed about. And which behaviours might you wish to demonstrate in order to create social contagion and positive emotions?
The New Rule of Safety #28: Safety is a Virus
In my book From Accidents to Zero I call this social contagion when applied to workplace H&S ‘viral safety’. Your challenge then, as a great safety leader, is to choose the positive behaviours you wish to infect your peers and stakeholders with, build your safety culture contagion, and drive excellent performance.
Read more of Andrew’s New Rules of Safety, here
Professor Dr Andrew Sharman is the 53rd President of IOSH, teaches at leading executive business schools including INSEAD, IMD and CalTech. Through his practice (www.RMSswitzerland.com) he consults to top-tier leaders at Fortune 500 corporations including Apple,IKEA, Heineken, Mercedes Benz, Tata, and more He’s the author of 10 books on safety leadership, culture and wellbeing, and the Founder and Chairman of the One Percent Safer Foundation, which strives to make the world of work a little bit safer each day, see www.onepercentsafer.com for details.
Sharman’s best-selling book From Accidents to Zero is available to SHP readers with an exclusive 25% discount. Use the code SHP25 at http://www.fromaccidentstozero.com to order your copy now.
Safety & Health Podcast
In this episode, Andrew Sharman shares his experiences of lockdown and talks about his latest book, One Percent Safer, described as an ‘anthology of the world’s best thought leaders, all in one place’. It contains 142 chapters, written by 142 different contributors, each one giving their best nugget of wisdom to make your organisation one percent safer.
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