Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 6

What happens when a person with a high tolerance for risk joins an organization that creates a culture of profit before safety?
Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Negative + Negative = Danger
A high tolerance for risk is not a bad personal trait. It is part of who that person is. The problem can occur with they are placed into an organization that has no priority for behavioral safety. Suddenly, the process to make the supervisor happy or to get accolades from the company is to get the job done faster, cheaper, and with fewer resources. This creates danger in its highest form. Imagine a company that chooses to save money through not performing training, chooses to no provide the tools that are needed to do the job safe,and chooses to push employees for more. In some cases that creates burnout and a complete lack of employee satisfaction. 

For those who lack the experience to know the expectations that should be in place for occupational safety this is a dangerous process and creates excessive and unnecessary risk. Again, defining safety nature as negative is not saying someone chooses to get hurt. It is simply a state of being, unknowing, or acceptance/tolerance of higher levels of risk. Once of the great dangers that of new workers. They have not been trained on the basic principles of occupational safety and so they are reliant on the company to provide that information. In the case of a company that has a negative safety culture, this set the stage for disastrous results.

Kristina Zierold of the University of Louisville has performed some really nice research on teenagers entering the workplace and the hazards associated with their work. In brief her work showed that teenagers when entering the workforce thought that any on-the-job training was the same as safety training. Much of the training was either observation of the job they were to perform or videos. This left teenagers in a risky situation without the knowledge that was needed to perform the work as safely as they could. This shows the risk that comes from not having a good safety nature and entering an organization that has a negative nature. 

It is necessary to provide the proper training to those as they enter the workforce and even as early as school. It is necessary to create a culture of safety as early as possible. Creating a natural safety personality is not really that natural. It comes through learning and experience. 

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 5

When evaluating what is considered a negative behavior (nature), it suits to first define that aspect of safety behavior first. This is not to imply that people got to work and choose to get hurt. This is far from the truth. There are those, naturally, who have a much larger acceptance of risk. They do not see the inherent danger that is associated with tasks in the workplace. When using the term negative nature, it not to create a connotation of a terrible employee who is seeking unsafe work or has a desire to get hurt. The truth is that this person may not have had the experience to lead to proactive safety measure and has a higher tolerance for the acceptance of personal risk. 

Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Negative + Positive = Emerging Safety
As an example, a positive safety nature would be akin to always following the speed limit while a negative nature would be to always drive 20+ over the speed limit. There risk is perceived as different with various levels of acceptability.

In the case of a negative safety nature (behavior) combined with a positive safety nurture (organizational culture) it is the “why” that matters most.

This is someone who has not seen the purpose of the safety programs in past is looking for the aspects of why these new rules or processes are going to add value to them. The use of case studies, real life examples, and the basis for how the risk is real creates value to those who have not had that exposure previously. 

This whole process creates an opportunity for the individual to having an emerging safety experience. They were unaware of the risk and that the risk can be further minimized to make sure they safe. The why is what matters most. They need to know that the risk is not worth it. They should understand that the risk is real, and the cultural expectation is that the risk is avoided through the use of the programs and procedures that are in place. 

The goal is that there is an awakening of individual safety accountability and a desire to take that new knowledge home with them. It is through the application of the newly learned safe processes that the individual can take that information home to use it in a way to create intrinsic value in their personal life. Safety is one of the few key processes in the work place that also creates a great value at home.

There are some practical application of quality and production processes at home, but safety is the one that can make a biggest impact for the employee at home. The ability to prevent fires, use a ladder properly, prevent electrocution, avoid falls, know about chemicals, etc. etc. etc. creates real value at home not only for the individual. These are skills that the employee can teach their friends and family. This is where safety creates true and last value through an emerging safety process.   

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 4

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings” – Helen Keller
Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Positive + Non-Existent = Apathetic Safety
Continuing on the theme of nature versus nurture, what happens when someone has a positive safety behavior and enters an organization that is neither positive or negative? The company has no safety culture at all. There is lasissez-faire attitude toward the safety culture of the site. 

Nature versus nurture is a complex process of what someone is born with and what they are exposed to. There is significant debate as to the amount each contributes to the whole of a person. When this process is look at from a person and organizational stand point, there are opportunities to better understand how these processes interplay for safety. When various internal behaviors (nurture) are encountered with various organizational cultures (nurture), there are varieties of ways the sum of the parts create an outcome.

When there is a positive nature and a non-existent nurture, it creates a neutral safety organization. In other words and individual has the desire to work safe and the organizational culture does not care either way. So what would this non-existent culture look like:

– There is basic regulatory training. It is conducted in the most efficient manner

– There are not shift discussions on safety

– Safety is only important when there is an incident, usually an injury

– There is no proactive process to measure safety

– The key measurement is LTIR and TCIR. 

The company does care about safety, but from a high level it is based on keeping insurance rates low and preventing regulatory interference. What is means is that there is risk for the employees and there is no external motivation to create systems to make it better. Safety is up to the individual.

Each day the personal will make a choice. They are not discouraged from making the right choice such as setting up a lockout-tagout or confined space entry process. There is also no discouragement from not performing them either. This creates a significant false sense of security. 

As an individual they are making internal choices based on their own process for evaluating risk. Some are much more willing to take risk than others. This can create an illusion that everything is fine with the safety programs and processes. From a legal standpoint, they are able to show training and written programs. A walk of the process may show some opportunity, but not blatant mishandling of safety processes. 

What this has created is apathy. There is not desire to get better. There is no influence to make it worse. In a negative culture, it can create a kind of backlash where people are working to get more attention on their issues. They are focused on the items that make the environment unsafe. They may be focused on trying to create some change. The neutrality of the safety program is one that is creating the idea that things are okay, so why worry to much about making improvement.

Apathy in safety is a scary idea. When a company believes that it is “good enough” when it comes to safety and it stops focusing on continuous improvement, there is a huge opportunity for risk. The Chemical Safety Board has many examples of good companies that felt they had gotten their safety program to where it should be and stopped pushing to make it better. The apathy created the opportunity for major disasters. 

To combat apathy as part of a safety culture, there has to be a focus on continuous improvement. There needs to be a feedback loop so that the program can be evaluated and those that are served by that program have the opportunity to give input to the improvement cycle. There needs to be proactive metrics that are not only collected but are part of a system that helps to drive positive cultural engagement and change. When it comes to safety culture, apathy is dangerous.

Nature and Nurture for Safety: Part 2

Overall, the debate of nurture vs nature is not one that I am will to address. There are, though, some aspects of nature and nurture in the way safety becomes behavioral and organizational.

For the sake of simplicity, nature will be defined as someone’s general safety philosophy before entering the workplace. Nurture will be defined as the way the company or organization creates safety or how they influence employees in regards to safety

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When nature is positive and nurture is positive, the outcome is a total safety experience. The individual comes to an organization with an innate ability and conscious of how to work safe and avoid unnecessary risk. The organization has also create a culture where safety is a top priority and the systems are in place to keep safety in the forefront. When these two items come together, it is nothing short of safety magic!

There is an individual that has a strong desire to see risk and find ways to mitigate that risk, all the while the organization is seeking ways to be more self-diagnosing and culturally open to continuous improvement. These two build a process in which they feed off each other.

As the individual’s nature leads to better ways to be safe, the nurture of the organization takes those methods and makes them systemic. The best methodology is found and then spread as a best practice. Since the nurturing organization is positive, they give the credit to the individual. Not only does this make the individual seek more opportunities, it invigorates others that may not have a natural sense of risk avoidance to seek new ways to overcome safety issues. The cycle self-perpetuates and creates an entire team seeking new and better ways to engage in keeping people safe.

This is a best case scenario. It creates a negatively skewed bell curve in which the measurement is safety behaviors per person. This creates an organization in which more people that average are exhibiting safety behaviors.

Nature and Nurture for Safety: Part 1

There is plenty of debate of the exact science, implications, and magnitude of nature and nurture.

To summarize for the sake to time and sanity, there are certain traits that people are born with that can hold some influence over who they are. Nurture comes in to whether or not a person chooses to go with or against their nature.

Nature is not a bad thing. Sometimes the traits we are born with are something we should nurture and use for the purpose of being better. Someone who is born with a naturally athletic build and then uses nurture to improve to become great at their talent should be encouraged.

For the discussion of safety, some may have a natural tendency to weigh risk and adapt a healthy approach to that risk. Or someone, may be completely prone to high risk taking with little thought. This is where  a robust safety attitude of an organization makes the impact.


There are many ways safety of an organization and at a very personal level can make big differences. An organization should be aware of the implications of not having a consistent and positive safety system in place. Do not confuse positive safety system with “warm fuzzy.” A good safety system is a proper balance of rights, responsibilities, training, education, accountability, ownership, consistency, and compassion.

So in other words the simplistic terms of “positive” and “negative” are much more robust in connotation through this set of discussions. A negative aspect of someone’s nature in regards to safety does not necessarily mean they are blatantly dangerous nor does a negative safety nurture mean a company is trying to overtly hurt people. There are many nuances and variations that can be in play with this very complex topic (see first paragraphs). The goal is to simply look at a very high level the outcome of when nature and nurture come together in the evolution of an occupational safety schema.

I am simply going to define nature as the way someone is before they enter the workplace in regards to safety. Nurture will be defined as the safety environment of the organization.

Nature can only be positive or negative while nurture can be positive, negative, or non-existent. A non-existent nurture is simply an organization that neither has fully embraced a total safety culture nor has it completely ignored safety. It is organization safety purgatory which could also be defined as an organization that feels it is “good enough” and has no reason to make or seek improvement to safety systems or culture.

Now that the terms have been defined as much as can be for such a topic, here is what it will represent for the upcoming discussions:

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