Workplace Safety Depends on Relationships

“It is not unsafe work conditions that we should worry about, it is unsafe behavior.”


It is often the red-headed stepchild of Human Resource programs, and for those organizations who aren’t knee deep in OSHA, CFRs and Safety Manuals, safety is typically something to be whispered about, like cancer or adultery.

(Be honest, you just whispered the word, Safety, exactly like I had explained you would.)

I was challenged earlier this month to develop a safety training course.

Wait, what?  I’m not a Health and Safety expert…what the heck would I know?

My client thought differently. He explained to me that positive safety cultures are created by the demonstration – the consistent demonstration – of positive human behaviors. Therefore, he asked me if I could put together a course to get the participants thinking about their behavior and how it could make or break the organization’s stellar safety rating.

I thought about that and I mentally flipped through my course library to see if I could springboard off something I had already created. I stumbled across a course I developed last year on teamwork and relationships and, as I pondered the content of that course, I had an epiphany.

Workplace Safety Depends on Relationships

If you care about the relationships with your team, you’ll commit to the safety of your team.

[Tweet “Relationships drive safe work behaviors. #showyoucare #safety “]

Let me start at the beginning. My course on teamwork and relationships suggested that committed team members:

Demonstrate Reliability

Communicate Constructively

Listen Actively

Share Openly

Function as an ACTIVE participant

Cooperate and Pitch In

Exhibit Flexibility

Work as a Problem Solver

Respect and Support Others

Show Commitment

For my new project, I presented examples of the above behaviors in the context of safety.


Employees will work as they are expected and needed to work, not how they “want” to work.

Employees will not cut corners or take shortcuts and instead, will respect all steps in the work process.

Employees will speak up when others are not following proven safety practices and protocols.

Employees will commit to “pulling the cord” or “stopping the job” if they believe anyone is at risk.

Communication – Constructive Pro-active Communicating, Active Listening and Sharing Openly

Employees will ask questions and otherwise pro-actively engage in safety meetings.

Employees will listen for understanding, and commit to appreciating why preventative rules, protocols or precautions are put into place, regardless of their own “risky” opinions or thoughts.

Employees will commit to speaking up when they are worried or concerned that the environment has changed, the instructions are unclear, or when there appears to be a misunderstanding.

Active Participation and Cooperation

Employees will pitch in to ensure “housekeeping” items get done, even if it’s “not their job” so the physical environment is free from hazards.

Employees will coach, mentor and otherwise “take care of” those  who are either new to the workplace and/or new to their positions so they can better understand the hazards and the reasons why precautions are put into place.

Employees will put their own tasks/duties aside if helping another perform their work safely needs to be done.

Flexibility and Problem Solving

Employees will demonstrate that safety is a priority by adjusting their work schedules to accommodate meetings or discussions about safety, risk, lessons learned, preventative measures, etc.

Employees will pro-actively offer solutions or ideas to safety hazards, inefficient safety protocols, etc.

Employees will actively try new procedures, equipment or tools that are suggested to minimize risk WITHOUT COMPLAINT.

Respect, Support of Others and Commitment

Employees will commit to never undermining the Health and Safety initiatives, regardless of how “unnecessary” or “silly” they believe them to be.

Employees will never blame a person for a hazard or injury and, instead, look at the process and identify how it can be improved so the issue or risk doesn’t happen again.

Employees will never chastise or ridicule someone who either stops the job because he/she is worried about safety, because he/she takes extra precautions to ensure the team’s safety, etc.

Employees will commit to keeping their head in the game and to preventing personal distractions from getting in the way of work.

Employees will demonstrate, at all times, a positive attitude when it comes to minimizing risk and ensuring everyone is safe.


By encouraging the participants to offer specific work examples and by intentionally using names of coworkers, the overall effect of these discussions was that the course was personal and relevant.

To strengthen the connection to relationships,  I offered feedback such as “so you cared about John…you didn’t want him to get hurt?” or “I bet Sue appreciated that you had her back” or  “I like that you made sure Larry recognized that it wasn’t his fault.”

All in all, the feedback of this course was overwhelmingly positive with almost all participants agreeing in some way that the relationships we have at work help us commit to making it a safe environment.

Not bad for someone who doesn’t know a thing about safety, eh?



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