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The Journal for Employee Protection
The Journal for Employee Protection
by Elke Werner-Keppner
Who do you listen to most often in your team? The careful one? The adventurous one? Maybe the creative one? In this article, Elke Werner-Keppner details how we can become safer through real dialogue, discussion and repeated reviews.
Picture this everyday scene. A service team stands at the top of the stairs. The door leading to the flat roof is open, the men look outside. Welded plastic membranes cover the industrial building’s roof to shield it from rain water. Walking routes across the roof are laid out with paving slabs. Light domes made of unstable acrylic glass are integrated in the roof.
The men’s job is to change the filter of a technical ventilation unit on the roof. Nothing special, pure routine, it won’t take long. The walking routes on the roof lead to and around the ventilation unit. One of the light domes is very close to the ventilation unit. In order to do their job, the service team need to be on the walking route between the ventilation unit and the unsecured edge of the roof.
In accordance with their company’s standards they carry out a quick “Last Minute Risk Assessment”, aka an LMRA. This leads to the following controllable risks: falling down from the roof edge and falling into the light dome if accidently stepped on. The resulting measure? The use of safety harnesses. The safety ropes can be hooked up at pre-determined points. The company standard requires everybody in such situations to be secured at any time.
Unfortunately, the team – once already in the staircase – realises that they don’t have the safety harnesses at hand. They would need to get them from the technical centre. As you can imagine, the following discussion ensues:
I do understand the standard, but… the technical centre is really far away. And I will have to climb up the stairs again!
I think I could do the job at a spot where I could work safely – even without safety harness.
Will that go well, if I don’t carry a safety harness?
Just a moment, I will go and get my safety harness from the technical centre and then do the job. It will just have to wait these 10 minutes.
10 minutes are quite a long time. By then, I could have done the job three times…
It won’t go too bad… How often have I done this job and how often did I get hurt doing it? No risk, no fun.
I certainly want to wear the safety harness. I think it’s much too dangerous without it.
Wearing the safety harness I don’t have enough freedom of movement. That could be dangerous as well – or at least the job would take longer than planned.
I could surely find a possibility to be safe and thus work safely – even without safety harness.
Keep calm everyone! It won’t work like this. This discussion takes too much time already and we still have enough to do today. We do know how to move safely on a roof, don’t we?
Of course there have been severe injuries from falls, but not in our team. We are certainly no beginners.
Next time, I will think of the safety harness ahead of time, so I don’t need to go all the way twice and I am safe anyway.
So, let’s do this job now and then off to the next job!
Ah, there you go… these 10 minutes can be saved. We can move in a professional way without falling down, even without safety harness.
At this point, fate takes its course. The further course of this story, however, we rather leave to your imagination.
I wonder whether you really believe that this discussion took place?
Oh yes, it took place! But in fact, there weren’t seven service workers – only one! And you wouldn’t have been able to listen to the discussion. Because it all happened within this man. We call these voices the inner team. It consists of different characters, is always active and always many-voiced.
Only after having heard all voices the service worker came to a decision. Let us hope that it turned out all right this time.
The inner dialogue refers to Das Innere Team/The Inner Team, by Friedemann Schulz von Thun.
Each of us knows this situation: If we listen into ourselves, we rarely find only one single “voice” speaking about a certain situation or subject. There are different inner voices, who seldom agree, and who all make efforts to influence our external communication and our actions. If a person needs to take a difficult decision they enter into an inner dialogue. The following voices are very common.
Did you recognise the different characters of our example?
Each voice represents one facet of our own personality. Often, they consider a situation from different perspectives and discuss conflicts between our values. The efficient use of resources like time and strength are always a factor in the discussion, often enough also risk tolerance and the appeal of novelty. As values, we repeatedly find efficiency and self-protection. Sometimes, entrepreneurial advantages play a role as value.
Actually, it should be child’s play to use our brain to soberly think the facts of a situation over and stop bad habits. Why, however, do so many people fail at their good resolutions? Why is it so often that we don’t wear the PPE?
In our hypothetical example about the inner team, reason prevails up to the Last Minute Risk Assessment, since it was part of a learnt routine. However, as the result seemed to be unpleasant and a personal decision was needed the comfortable and adventurous voices dominated.
Unfortunately, even in our everyday life, inner dialogues are not always objective and their final decisions are not always guided by the facts of a situation. Past experience takes much more influence because of two reasons.
Firstly, speaking in terms of evolution, the brain areas saving routines are very old – dinosaurs had them. After all, routine and repetition were important for surviving even in prehistoric times.
Secondly, processes in the routine brain areas are carried out fast as lightning. Processes of conscious acting, however, need more time. The old brain area offers a routine to save time and effort, long before conscious perception and valuation of facts have taken place. This, however, does not always lead to the correct result. So for emotional reasons we have decided to work without PPE long before our consciousness gets active. And then we look for apparently objective reasons in order to justify ourselves.
Routines make life easier, since habits help our brains save energy. We write and read in an effortless way once we have learnt these processes. All habits – even the bad ones – work on the principle of routine, having developed from successful experience.
The “Last Minute Risk Assessment”, LMRA, is a method companies should give to their single workers and make them practice it. This method asks for some thinking time before starting a job if the situation is not exactly known. It is a guided process of rationally assessing a situation in order to produce safe action. However, during this process an inner dialogue takes place, which finally and decisively influences the action that follows, even before the LMRA has been completed. Thus, it is no surprise that the LMRA does not always lead to the desired safe action.
If we want employees and colleagues to wear safety harnesses, we need to change their routines. We have to question their established action, actively discuss new actions with them and, above all, train it. Training is especially important to create new routines of action. Words and thoughts are important to set values which influence action; however, they do not determine action by themselves.
Management and experts have to make clear in a believable way, again and again, that they won’t tolerate any action other than safe action. Thus, values and actions of the employees will change. Very slowly, of course, but slowly but surely we will get there.
Using LMRA should always start with intensive “consciousness-raising” characterised by “real dialogue”, discussion and repeated reviews.
LMRA needs to be trained and practiced intensively to become a personal routine, to increasingly drown out the voices of the comfortable one and the adventurer as part of our everyday routine.
Elke Werner-Keppner graduated with a Master’s degree in Educational Science and Psychology from Heidelberg University and founded etalon in 2016 after more than 20 years as a trainer and consultant – the last seven years of which as general manager at Kirschstein & Partner.
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