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We all live in a rapidly changing, and sometimes complex, world. This creates an impact on safety. In a working environment that can change every day, it is not always easy to work safely. While, of course, that is what you want.

Tell me honestly, do you ever catch yourself deliberately deviating from agreements? Do you have any idea why? Probably because you just want to get it right. You simply assess that deviating from the rules is the only right and best choice in this particular situation.

You don’t work safely alone. Safety is something you make together with your colleagues. Ideally, we all work with a lot of social safety at work. When we talk about a workplace with social safety, one feels free to express an opinion. Also, one need not fear humiliation or harassment (transgressive behaviour) by colleagues or managers. A workplace with high levels of social safety is a prerequisite for effective collaboration, better learning and good performance.

This makes it important to make agreements and establish procedures for some of our work, but certainly also to give each other room to improvise. After all, unexpected situations will always arise. By giving each other the confidence within the team and the organisation that employees themselves are perfectly capable of making the right assessment, they are more likely to put safety first in every situation and act accordingly as well as possible.

No real safety without psychological safety

Creating the situation mentioned above falls under psychological safety. And you desperately need this as a team, and as an organisation, to ensure physical safety. Psychological safety is about feeling and experiencing as colleagues that you are allowed to report dangerous situations, or even (near) accidents, and that you can make suggestions. Even if that means that your ideas of how to work safely do not match the prevailing standards and attitudes.

Unfortunately, this is where things often go wrong. For instance, how would you feel if you were judged for a mistake or if a colleague reacted with contempt the moment you came up with a suggestion to adjust a working method? Do you therefore sometimes keep ideas to yourself for fear of unpleasant reactions? Or what do you do when you have to deal with cross-border behaviour, for example, or when you see this happening to someone else? Do you know where to report this, and do you feel you will be taken seriously? Or do you fear the consequences of such a report, and so keep it to yourself?

In a work environment where psychological safety is important, you should not fear negative consequences of your input, comments or reports. Is this the case? Then you are not experiencing psychological safety. Ask yourself the critical question how this actually is in your team. Do you feel safe in your working environment?

A safe example will be followed

Suppose a colleague jumps into a ditch, will you jump too? Probably yes, and in fact there is nothing you can do about it. It is important to realise that you and your colleagues strongly influence each other. In a general sense, people change their opinions and behaviour to align with those of people around them. Basic examples are smiling and yawning, with these you (unconsciously) ignite people around you. People copy other people’s behaviour, including when it comes to safety.

So it is important to set a good example yourself. Show that you follow current agreements, but also that you keep thinking for yourself and sometimes consciously choose to deviate from them. And above all, make it clear to your colleagues that you also make mistakes yourself and that you share them, precisely in order to learn from them as a team. Because working safely is something you do together!

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