You’re from the safety department. I don’t trust you.

“You’re from the safety department. I don’t trust you.”
Those were the first words a shift leader spoke to me when I entered the control room to introduce myself to him. I was a 25-year-old, a junior-safety advisor and my supervisor had recently given me the opportunity to support three site plants. Because of my background as a community worker, he entrusted me with those co-workers who preferred to avoid dealing with the safety department.

“Hi, my name is Annemarie. I’d love a cup of coffee.”
He looked at me, quite surprised, and said: “Sit down, how do you drink your coffee?’”
It was the start of a beautiful collaboration.

I visited him every week. The first couple of months, I spoke with him about all sorts of topics: his plant, his people, hobby’s, etcetera. But not about safety. Along the road, he allowed more room to discuss safety topics with him,  pleasantly and constructively.

About a year after my first visit, he called me at the end of my working day, expressing that he wanted to discuss something with me.
Due to maintenance work, one of his men had to descend in a column with a height of 25 meters and a diameter of  75 centimeters.  The only entrance was via the top lid. They wanted him to put on a safety harness, and then lower him into the column by hanging on the hook of a crane. Obviously, they’d bring him up again, too.

“How do you feel about that”, he asked me.
– ‘How do you think I feel about it’
He answered that he thought I probably didn’t find it a good idea.
– You’re right about that. I’ll come over and we’ll talk about it.

Finding a safer solution together

By mutual agreement with all people directly involved, we found a safer, simpler and even cheaper solution. I stayed with them till the job was finished.
During supper, I asked the shift leader: ‘Tell me, this wasn’t the first time you had to do this job, was it?  How did you do it before?’ He looked at me with a big grin on his face and said: “How do you think…?”
I just thanked him for trusting me.

Improving safety starts with feeling safe

To me, this story of thirty years ago is about the essence of ‘Safety’. The shift leader didn’t feel safe anymore with the people from the safety department. That’s why he had stopped communicating with them. Because safety is not a matter of ‘black or white’. By building a good relationship with him, he started trusting me. That gave him the essential feeling of being safe.

No matter which role you have in your company, step by step improvement starts with:

  • feeling safe, so that you dare to speak out your doubts and insecurities
  • listening without judgment and being thankful for the trust people have in you
  • finding solutions together that work well and keep the risk at an acceptable level

You can’t achieve all this with rules only. However, you can, with (self-)reflection and open and transparent communication.  Daring to address concerns, and to inspire.  Finding out together what it is you need to ensure that things go well and then act upon it.  Plus, complimenting each other afterward with friendly and constructive collaboration.

Do your people feel safe at work?

Are you eager to find out how well people trust each other in your company? Do they really feel safe to express concerns, doubts, and insecurities to their co-workers while performing their job? To leaders, before or after work has finished? To support staff such as engineers and consultants?

Would you like to find out how you can grow trust with your company or department? Contact me by phone (+31 6 27011137) or mail ( today!. Let’s start with a chat and a nice cup of coffee.