The Role of Psychology in Workplace Safety
By Lancaster Safety Consulting
Employers that don’t put a premium on workplace safety can suffer both financial and reputational losses, thanks to work-related injuries or illness. In 2018 alone, work-related injuries cost companies $170.8 billion, broken down as follows:
wage and productivity losses of $52.4 billion
medical expenses of $35.0 billion
administrative expenses of $57.6 billion
employers’ uninsured costs of $12.8 billion
damage to motor vehicles in work-related injuries of $4.9 billion
fire losses of $8.2 billion
Those figures alone ought to serve as strong enough impetus for any organization to commit to its safety goals. Safety inspections and the subsequent implementation of corrective measures are vital to meeting those objectives. Equally important to that aim–but seemingly understated–is understanding the role that psychology plays in workplace safety.
Companies that want to improve their workplace safety need to develop “a focused organizational mindset on performance excellence . . . [that] drives desired and predictable outcomes in everything they undertake, including delivering on outstanding safety management system performance.” In other words, psychology is used to cultivate a culture in which “the way work is performed is just as important as the final work product, its presentation, and delivery to the paying customer.” With this approach, valuing safety comes organically, because doing things safely is part of performance excellence. That said, nurturing a culture of excellence does take time, as well as a top-down approach in which management identifies a clear vision and then empowers the workforce to be part of that vision.
Psychology has another significant connection to workplace safety. Psychologists have long championed putting employees’ mental and emotional well-being at the center of workforce practices, and today more and more companies are either bringing in experts or introducing psychological initiatives to protect their workers. The goal of these new approaches to promote the mental and emotional health of employees is to make sure that everyone in the workplace feels safe, secured, and comfortable. Employees with this mindset are more likely to maintain performance excellence, which then leads them to make more conscious efforts to do their work correctly and safely.
With such possibilities on the table, small wonder that more companies are now turning to occupational health psychology (OHP), which “concerns the application of psychology to improving the quality of work life, and to protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers.” OHP is a relatively new field that can help employers to improve workplace conditions, workforce satisfaction, and workplace safety. In order to maximize the benefits of OHP, however, companies still need assistance from experts in psychology.
Psychology can also play a role in helping management achieve one of its key goals: to improve employment relationships. Employees who have good workplace relationships are healthier and more in tune with how the company operates. They are also better able to perform with excellence, which results in increased safety.
Creating a safe workspace does not entail simply ensuring that workers are physically protected. By also considering the psychology of safety, companies can address their employees’ needs in ways that improve their performance–and, consequently, their safety–in the workplace.
Lancaster Safety Consulting Inc. is dedicated to helping its clients achieve a safe workplace through a world-class occupational safety and health program with onsite training. Lancaster Safety can be reached at lancastersafety.com/contact/.
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