By Nicole Serena, Contributor | Posted: June 1, 2021 | Revised: March 28, 2022
Culture is how we do things. It’s a collection of shared beliefs and practices. In terms of safety culture, it’s how we do the work when nobody’s watching – the tools we use, the methods we use to get the work done.
When we’re at work, there’s a safety net because people are watching. But outside of work, either no one is watching, or people don’t think it’s their job to say anything about safety. So it’s all on us to make the safe choices.
It should transfer automatically – it should become a habit, but that’s not always the case.
A few years ago, I was on a work trip speaking with a heavy equipment maintenance company’s safety manager. He told me he doesn’t do all this safety stuff at home because that’s what he has to do at work. I was baffled. This was the safety manager! He didn’t make the connection that the hazards at home are just as dangerous, or more so, than at work.
If we make safety solely about rules and policies without understanding why we take precautions (what’s at stake if we get hurt), then we’re missing the point and missing the opportunity to make a real impact.
We see this a lot because it’s how the brain works. The first time you do something you spend more time preparing and thinking consciously about it. But the more times you do it, you think about it less and it becomes automatic. Your brain conserves energy this way. The hazard hasn’t changed, but our conscious focus on it has.
The best way to go off autopilot is by stopping and thinking about the task before you get started. Many of our customers do this before they start every shift. The next time you’re about to start a routine task, think about:
How you’re going to do the work
Routinely thinking through your work before, during, and after will help break that unconscious cycle.
As parents, I don’t know that we’ll ever stop worrying about our children’s safety, but we can do our best to set them up for success. In addition to modeling safe behavior, it’s also important to teach them good habits they can develop to protect themselves. You can read our How to Talk to Kids About Safety article for specific tips.
I grew up on a farm and we never talked about safety. When I got out on my own, I continued taking all kinds of risks and shortcuts. Besides a few broken bones, stiches and scars, I luckily made it through intact. But there were a few close calls that still shake me up to this day.
I don’t want to see bad things happen to anyone else, which is why I’m doing this job today. And I’ve learned to be prepared:
While we don’t like to think about what could go wrong, it’s critical that we do and then prepare for how to mitigate or address it if it does.
While they’re rare occurrences, emergency situations can be life-altering for your family. It’s important to be ready with resources and a plan. We have a section on cat.com dedicated to disaster preparedness, including an emergency supply shopping list and tips for preparing a business disaster plan. There’s also great resources available at sites like the American Red Cross and Ready.gov.
Home feels like it should be the safest place on earth. And it can be. But it requires us to plan for safety and act accordingly. If you’re working at heights from a ladder, using power tools or chemicals, grilling, or doing landscaping, the hazards may be just as serious, or even more so, than at work. If you’re not proactively safe on the weekend, you may not make it to the job again on Monday.
To me, off-the-job safety is just as critical as safety on the job. To make it “normal,” you have to make it a routine. And to make it a routine, you have to start. And it should be a positive experience.
Start simple and do something small:
With consistency, it becomes the norm.
Know that building a culture of safety, whether at work or at home, is a continuous improvement journey. You don’t have to have it all figured out from the start. But you have to start. Safety can be simple, but you have to think and turn your intentions into action.
Justin is a frequent speaker and writer on the impact of culture, leadership, and human biology on workplace safety. With nearly 20 years of experience in environmental education, public health, and private industry, he has led improvement initiatives as a consultant to a variety of industries. Currently, he serves as Business Development Manager with Caterpillar Safety Services in Peoria, Illinois. Justin is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) and Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science – Biology and a Master of Science in Biology from Bradley University.
Justin Ganschow speaking at the 2020 South Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association Winter Conference.
Nicole is a second-generation Caterpillar employee with a passion for digital marketing. Currently in the brand marketing team, she's spent the past several years managing digital media and content — including Caterpillar's social media program. Nicole lives in central Illinois with her husband and two young boys (and two very active dogs).
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