The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 8

Over the course of eight posts and a few detours along the way, we have explore that safety behaviors can be quantified in a similar fashion as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are reasons that are based on basic needs that demonstrate why safety cultures may be moving forward, falling behind, or remaining stationary. There are basic needs that have to be met to allow a safety culture to progress within an organization.

Maslow’s Hierarch of Needs is a good model to predict behaviors based on what need are being fulfilled. When the needs based approach is applied to only the occupational safety area there are many striking similarities. The safety behaviors of a company and be interpreted using a needs based approach. If the needs of the more basic function are not met, the behaviors will mirror and be driven to those needs. A company cannot create a good safety culture without working to assure that the basic needs are met. The most basic, largest, and more energy driven phases of the safety hierarchy are driven primarily by the company management. They have an inherent social contract with the team to first provide gainful employment and to also provide a workplace that is free of serious health and safety hazards. Without the primary needs being met, the company cannot expect safety behaviors to be changed in a meaningful and productive way. As the employees and management fill the lower tier needs and start to shape progressive behaviors, there has to be an acute cognizance of threats to the basic foundation of the pyramid. When threats are encountered, there has to be more effort to mend the foundation or acceptance of the changes in perceptions and behaviors. Overall, the needs based approach to safety delivers insight to why employees may have trouble altering or progressing safe behaviors.

Just as humans have basic needs that have to met for social progression, the world of safety if similar. When considering a company, safety is the most people oriented metric. With that being said, people in groups have social and primal needs that have to met for progression. It cannot be expected that a company can set high expectations without equally empowering their team for success.

In the next series of discussions, I am going to look at the link of programs and behaviors and how those two items can be quantified using a similar typology.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 7

The final phase of the needs based process is when the social recognition needs of the team is met. The team becomes almost self-sufficient. They are able to problem solve on their own and find even more creative ways to assure the safety of the site. The teams in this phase are encouraged to take over entire safety based program from writing the policy to performing the training. The team is driving and self-sustaining the gains. The management’s job is to clear and roadblocks and to help assess the progress. The progress is sustained through assuring that the previous behavioral needs are met. As demonstrated earlier when a lower segment of the pyramid starts to erode, the behaviors will revert to attempt to fill the more fundamental and basic need. This process builds to a true system of continuous improvement in the safety system. The team is finding ways on its own to seek out and correct issues before they happen. The gains that the safety teams have made are well sustained and ingrained in the culture. There becomes a total sense of ownership in safety. This is a tough phase as it is about letting go of the programs and truly empowering the team to make safety about the team and culture. It is critical during this phase, that the lower needs are reviewed regularly to assure that they are being met. It gains will not be sustained if: The business itself cannot be sustained, the safety items fail to get fixed, or the teams are not given time and resources to do a proper job. Gained this level of the a team based safety approach is about investing the team and investing in the individuals. This is truly a phase where break-through behavioral growth is over, and the focus in more on continuous improvement and total system sustainment. The goal is to not assume that the journey is over. The journey is always continuing. The focus will shift to auditing the process and looking for ways that improvements can be created. It is the process that has to maintained. The process drives the strong results.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 6

This is part 6 to a series of posts based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory takes that same basic premiss of having a progression of needs based behaviors and applying them to how safety progresses in an occupational environment.

This phase of the pyramid is a focus on progressing the teams and having the teams watch for safety issues for each other. It is important to note that the progression to this phase is marked by having an effective safety program that creates a strong sense of safety in the individuals in the organization.

The change from team work to recognition is slight from a mechanical approach, but dramatic from a behavioral aspect. The teams are no longer reliant on management for the solutions. The teams are finding and implementing solutions on their own. The resources are available and accessible. The teams know how to correct, report, and follow up on any safety concerns that are arising. They have the support of management through financing, resources, and attention. The supervisory responsibilities would include following up on work to assure corrections were complete and assuring the team stays focused on the tasks they begin. The most important aspect that has to be fulfilled is the need for recognition. The environment has to recognize these teams individually and publicly for their accomplishments. Their need has grown beyond simple social interaction, but now the desire to be appreciated is apparent. The company should take time to recognize and reward the work of their committees. The goal is to fulfill the need to be recognized.

This phase is marked with behaviors that are looking for the next safety improvement. The team knows that the company is committed to correcting and improving the safety of the site. The teams are now on the look of any predictive measures and items to correct to assure that injuries and incidents are prevented.

The teams are conducting self assessments for behaviors and conditions that can lead to safety issues. They are not worried of offending or judging others. The primary focus is helping each other to be safer. They coach each other and share success across the organization. If one department find a creative solution to correct a safety condition, that practice is carried to other departments. The key factor is to seek ways for the team to improve various aspects of the safety program.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 5

So far, we have discussed the inherent process of having a job, creating a safety culture, and creating a team culture. At this point, it would make sense to have a simple validation process of understanding needs based safety.

A reverse logic approach can be applied as part of a validation of the behaviors. If a company has a functional safety committee with good participation and ideas, then it can be implied that the company has fulfilled the obligation to provide a workplace that is perceived to be free from serious hazards. This process does not take the place of a strong physical hazard auditing system, but it gives indication of the culture, behaviors, and perceptions that are present among the members of the workplace. With all the behavioral tiers of the pyramid the same reverse logic can be applied to the needs below. If employees feel safe, then there is a perception of employment stability as is seen with workers’ compensation when layoffs are a potential. Safety can be affected when gainful employment is at risk. The lowest filled need is the one that behaviors gravitate toward. The perceptions drive the behaviors, as the behaviors are driven by a fundamental needs based approach as theorized originally by Maslow.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs, Part 4

To recap the needs based safety theory so far: 1) Safety is a needs based behavior 2) Before an organization can progress to the next need, the previous one has to be fully realized 3) The process is: Gainful Employment, Personal Safety, Team Work, Recognition, Continuous Improvement. 4) The previous posts have: discussed the theory and promoted personal safety. This post is in regards to creating a team based safety culture.

This phase is marked by a behavior that is more inherently concerned with the “we” rather than the “me.” The individual first has to feel personally safe before he can look to his team member and have concern for them also. In this phase of the behaviors approach, safety committees can start to realize their full potential. The lower needs have been fulfilled, and the individuals can start to become more socially aware of safety. The goals are for the groups to begin to identify issues and work together to avoid injury. The social process of safety is simply an approach that is broadened beyond the individual. It will be a process of where the work group will share safety items, be aware of hazards to the group, and work together to improve the environment. The goal is to encourage the teams to self-develop and empower them to solve problems along with progressing safety.

A key management behavior in this phase is to conduct technical training. This is so the teams understand the safety regulations and programs the implement those laws. For the team to be effective, they have to understand the end of goal of not only meeting but exceeding the safety regulations. They cannot be expected to accomplish this task without some technical training on the relevant regulations. The team will also need some training on what it means to be a functional team. This would include fostering team work, listening skills, and facilitation workshops. The team has to function singly with and have the interpersonal skills to support one another.

A critical component of this phase is open and honest communication between the company and the committees. It is the company’s responsibility to assure that the committees understand the constraints of the business. The scope of the work has to be set to that items such as time, resources, and money are defined. There is no reality of having unlimited of any of those three. On the other hand, it is the company’s responsibility to assure that those items that can be corrected are accepted with the utmost importance. Quick wins should be implemented with speed and longer projects should be tracked with milestones being publicized. The two way street of implementation and communication between the company and the employees start to emerge, grow, and take on life. Overall, this is a phase where team work among the individuals and between the company and employees starts to bloom.


The Heirarchy of Safety Needs. Part 3

There is much effort and time that goes into building the base of the pyramid but for good reason. For the process to be layered upon, the bottom sections have to be strong and stable. The bottom of the pyramid is the largest in area, holds the majority of the weight, and creates stability for the next steps. As the pyramid is being build, any flaws in the lower sections jeopardizes the work of the behaviors above it. Before taking the next steps, it must be assured that the current layer and the layers below are stable and secure. Cultural and behavioral change takes time. The process cannot be rushed because any uncertainty will eventually be felt through eroding of need based behaviors. For example, take a site has progressed from basic safety programs to creating team based approaches and committees The process is working well, and the teams are starting to make some dramatic changes in the site behaviors. Suddenly, market conditions change and the plant is potentially faced with a layoff. The base of the pyramid has been dealt a staggering blow. People are not as focused on safety, much less the safety committee. They are now focused on how they will keep or find another job. In times of uncertain economics, people will seek what they perceive as certain. They are seeking stability based on needs. The needs of the employees revert to a lower level of the hierarchy because that need was no longer fulfilled. An event such as an economic downturn is out of the control of the safety professional, but it serves as an example of how when a more basic need is a not met a person will return to the lowest unfulfilled need. The culture and behaviors of the team will reside with the lowest stable tier of the pyramid.

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs. Part 2: The Safety Need

Through applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to an occupational setting, a needs based safety equivalent can be contrived. At the base of the pyramid is the primal need that is filled through having gainful employment. The next tier up is one of safety. The safety portion of the pyramid is based on creating the fundamental feeling that someone can come to a place of work and be able to return home at the end a shift in relatively the same condition and they arrived (tired from a day of work but uninjured). Creating a safe environment is fundamentally the responsibility of the employer. This was the whole reason the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created. OSHA is in place to assure that the employer provides a basic safe working environment. It was not created to assure that the employee worked safe, but with any system that involved people there is always a choice.

First, I want to say that employee safety committees are very important, but looking at the situation through a “needs based” set of metrics shows that basic safety programs have to be in place first. It is interesting to come into a situation where safety performance is poor and those who have watched the programs (and usually safety managers) come and go will push for an immediate safety committee. Usually, this statement of absolute knowledge is followed with the statement that each time a safety committee is started there is a lack of employee interest and the committees disband. Why does this happen? The committees fail because the basic need of safety has not been met. Those in the work place cannot graduate to the team based (esteem) need because they do not feel personally safe and perceive that the company is not providing a safe environment.

What could be the reasons for the safety need not being fulfilled?

First, the site should review if there is truly a safe workplace. Are there glaring safety issues that have gone unabated such as guarding, chemical, or procedural problems? This would be a clear case of the employees’ inability to move on to the next behavioral phase due to a lack of fulfillment in the current one. Most likely though, there are some other underlying issues that are present that have not been addressed. One method to find the cause of the behavioral issue would be to conduct a series of employee surveys or interviews. The survey would include “agree or disagree” questions such as:

  • I feel management is committed safety
  • I feel safety concerns are addressed in a timely manner
  • I feel like safety concerns are taken seriously
  • I feel comfortable talking about safety issues with my supervisor
  • I believe the company wants me to be safe
  • Safety is the most important task I perform

The information provided from the survey would give a good overview of the site’s generalized feeling about safety. The survey would indicate a potential area of the safety process that needs to be further developed. The results of the survey could lead to a stronger focus on timely performance of maintenance safety work orders or allow for more supervisor training on engaging employees and mitigating safety hazards. When it comes to people, especially groups, perception is reality.

The good news is that perceptions can be changed. The goal is to make the change as simple as possible. Some examples of utilizing small changes to make large impacts would be:

  • Publicizing the safety work order metrics
  • Performing visible management safety audits
  • Posting before and after photos of safety corrections
  • Training the management team and supervisors to make a personal contact with employees through the day to simply thank them for working safe.

Here is the bottom line for the safety need:

  • The company is responsible for providing a safe workplace.
  • Review/Create programs for compliance
  • Assure that the programs are being utilized
  • Make sure that training is clear, up-to-date, and reflects the work place
  • When safety deficiencies are found, correct them with urgency or communicate the plan for longer projects.
  • Communicate, communicate communicate. The goal is to change the perception of the safety programs. Show progress where progress has made. Use small changes as a springboard for large scale change*
  • Listen to the feedback coming from the employees. If they perceive something as a problem, there might be one.

*For more on making big changes, I highly recommend “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard”

The Hierarchy of Safety Needs: Part 1

One of the more fascinating theories that I enjoy thinking about in relationship to safety is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I realize that I just cited Wikipedia, but it does give a good overview of the process. So, I’m going to let that one ride.

Basically, Maslow says there is a pyramid of needs and that until someone fulfills the bottom most need, they cannot progress to the next one. Once that one is also filled, one could progress to the next one in line until an individual reaches the top.

The bottom most tier is the basic/primal needs where the higher-level ones are more advanced.

To Summarize the needs:

Physiological: Primal needs such as eating, sleeping, clothing, shelter

Safety: Personal, financial, etc. What makes someone feel secure in their element

Love: Family & Friends

Esteem: Self-esteem

Self Actualization: The highest progression of needs. Self awareness.

In other words: one cannot feel safe until their basic needs are met. One cannot love until they feel safe, etc. etc.

My thoughts on this theory: Can it be applied to occupational safety? Are there needs in the workplace that are or are not being met that create unnecessary risk taking that could lead to an injury? How are those needs fulfilled?

This theory of needs is a  way of looking at a workplace and the people in it to see where they are on the needs scale and possibly predict their attitude or aptitude toward safety. The idea of needs based safety could be the basic root cause of unsafe behaviors in the workplace.

So, what are the hierarchy of safety needs?

Physiological: Inherent to the theory. If you are concerned about workplace safety, then the job itself is providing this need through employment.

Safety: This is the company’s commitment to safety through policies, procedures, investments, and accountability

Love: Love for self and concern for personal safety

Esteem: Concern for not only one’s self, but the team

Self Actualization: Where the team is empowered to make safety their own and progress the programs and processes through continuous improvement.

There is an element of social contact interwoven to this process. The company has an inherent responsibility to provide a safe workplace, and the employees have the responsibility to follow those programs. Based on the needs, though, the company has to make the first move to meet that need of safety through their safety programs and processes.

In my next entry, I will go into more detail on the “safety” portion of the needs pyramid.