Using Positive Psychology to Promote Safety in the Workplace

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the study of common strengths and behaviors that help communities thrive. By focusing on our behavioral strengths we can help to eliminate negative behaviors or habits that cause problems. For example: instead of focusing on an employee’s bad habit of leaving a tool in the wrong place, emphasize the positive habits you would like them to develop and offer consistent praise or incentives when they do something the right way.

Why Do Employees Behave and Act Unsafely?

Your employees might behave in dangerous ways because their bad habits have never resulted in an injury or accident. Though your first instinct might be to show them scary statistics like Heinrich’s triangle (which states that one major injury and 29 minor injuries occur out of every 330 unsafe acts) a better approach would be to focus on how following safety protocols help your workplace achieve safety milestones like going more than 1 year without an accident.

Promoting Good Safety Habits 

Once you identify specific behaviors that need to change, you will want to determine why they are occurring in the first place. For example, perhaps your employees are in the habit of collecting their used knife blades on their work surfaces because it is easier than walking them to the disposal box one at a time. Or, maybe no matter how many times you have told them, they still aren’t wearing the right safety gear while cutting boxes. This behavior could be because their gloves are not comfortable to wear while working.

Plan on looking for and eliminating any external factors that influence their unsafe actions. For example, to keep your employees from leaving their used knife blades out, consider providing them with personal blade disposal boxes so they can conveniently store used blades. If their safety gear is causing them discomfort, invest in a different brand of gloves that may be easier to wear while cutting. Ultimately, you want the safe choice to be more convenient and comfortable than the bad habit.    

Establishing a Culture of Safety 

Consider creating daily or weekly “safety moments” or “check-ins” to reinforce what you have covered in safety training. These moments aren’t meant to replace your formal safety training or to introduce new rules. Instead, they are a wonderful way to reinforce what has been learned and give you the opportunity to praise your employees for correctly answering safety questions or completing safety drills.

Additionally, always make it a priority to address your employee’s concerns. During regular check-ins you’ll discover if they are unhappy, angry, sad, stressed, frustrated, or don’t get along well with their coworkers. Employees that are in this mindset are more likely to disregard safety concerns, make errors that cause accidents, or be less receptive to a company-wide safety culture. Adequately addressing concerns and resolving conflicts will help make your workplace safer and inspire your employees to be open with you if anything should come up in the future.

Studies show that Positive Reinforcement Works

Studies show that positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage consistent, repeatable behaviors in the workplace. This method has more positive results than doling out negative consequences or punishments when your employees make mistakes. Managers set the tone for a workplace and act as role models for the company culture. Showing that you are committed to safety and consistently using positive language to reinforce good habits will transform your workplace into a safer and happier place.