Safety efficacy – the power of self-confidence in safety management
Taking pride in your skills
You might know it from yourself; when you feel confident about your skills in doing something, you automatically become better at it and take pride in it, whether this is cooking, basketball, shopping, doing sports, welding, navigating a vessel, or writing reports.
|Safety-efficacy is an employee’s confidence that he or she has the skill to work safely in the context of a specific workplace environment|
This simple, though well-known and commonly experienced logic is actually the basis for the concept of Safety-efficacy. Safety-efficacy is defined as an employee’s confidence that he or she has the skill to work safely in the context of a specific workplace environment.
Safety-efficacy is explained in two articles. In this first article we will focus on safety-efficacy as a concept and how it works on the individual level. In the second article we will focus on how the individual’s safety-efficacy is influenced by the surrounding company culture, and what companies can do to enhance its employees’ safety-efficacy.
Confidence makes you safer
Research shows that the safety-efficacy has a positive impact on the safety performance. In other words, if you have confidence in your own ability to work safely, you will automatically work safer and you will also be more comfortable about influencing others with your good safety behaviour.
In other words, safety-efficacy has a strong influential effect among colleagues, who have the potential to enhance a company’s safety performance. For this reason, safety-efficacy is a very interesting and promising concept, which we will explore further in two articles.
Incidents don’t make you safer
It is a common assumption that if you have been part of an incident, you will try your best to avoid making the same mistake again. It is believed that, you will be even more safety aware which will lead to a higher safety performance. We could call this the ‘you-have learned your lesson’- logic.
However, new research proves this assumption wrong: If you have been involved in an incident your safety-efficacy is likely to become low because you don’t have the same confidence in your safety skills. Likewise, your safety performance will be affected negatively.
The influential effect of safety-efficacy
In an interview made recently a Chief Officer shared a very good example of how high safety-efficacy gives the confidence and the courage to actively influence others:
“In the beginning they are reluctant to participate in this safety reporting activity because they lack self-confidence, but when they do it, they have a good experience and get confidence, and then it’s easier for them to voice out their opinions and ideas on other matters” (Chief Officer)
When you are confident in your ability to work and act safely, you become more confident of helping others, intervening in unsafe situations, suggesting new ways of doing, etc. The influential effect of the safety-efficacy makes your safe work practices and safety behaviours extend beyond yourself and positively influence your colleagues around you.
On the other hand, if you are low on safety-efficacy in the sense that you don’t believe in your own ability to work safely, you will rarely dare influence others, because you don’t feel you have the skills or insight worth sharing. If all employees feel this way it generates a negative safety culture, where employees don’t take care of each other, are not safety alert, do not intervene, and might not prioritise safety.
|A company’s safety standard is defined as the hands-on safety practices and safety behaviours demonstrated in a company|
Safety-efficacy has an influential effect among colleagues. This effect has the potential to enhance employees’ safety performance and hereby the company’s safety standard.
To better understand the influential effect of safety-efficacy, it is worth looking into the relationship between the employee’s safety-efficacy and the company’s safety standard.
High safety-efficacy enhances the safety standard
As mentioned, the employees’ level of safety-efficacy has the potential to both enhance and lower a company’s safety standard. To illustrate how safety-efficacy and the company’s safety standard affect each other, the Safety-efficacy-model is very useful.
Low safety-efficacy combined with a poor safety standard (C)
Employees with low safety-efficacy don’t have confidence in their own safety skills, and they are typically less motivated towards safety and are thus less likely to influence each other positively. In combination with a low safety standard this might contribute to a downward spiral where safety is not prioritised or is considered as an irrelevant task and something they are not good at. This scenario is not desirable for any company.
Low safety-efficacy combined with a high safety standard (B)
In this case the safety standard level is high, but the company is missing out on the influential effect of the safety-efficacy as they have not developed or supported the employees’ self-confidence in handling safety. The next article (part 2) provides inputs on measures companies can take to help increase employees’ safety-efficacy.
High safety standard goes hand in hand with a high safety-efficacy (A)
This is the optimal case where employees feel confident in their safety skills and naturally influence each other. The influential effect of the safety-efficacy can contribute to a positive spiral that enhances the company’s safety standard. All companies should work towards this scenario.
High safety-efficacy, but the safety standard is poor (D)
This is a very precarious case because there is a risk that colleagues are influenced by a poor safety behaviour and mindset as well as complacency. To avoid this, it is very important to be aware of the nature of the safety behaviours and safety mindset that are conveyed and lived in the company. This will be discussed this in the next sections.
The Safety-efficacy-model illustrates how a high safety-efficacy can work as an enhancer of the company’s safety standard, whereas low standards and low safety efficacy can have a negative effect on the safety performance.
High safety standard based on best practice safety behaviours
To benefit from an employee’s high safety-efficacy, it is important that companies make sure the employees have high level safety skills and safety behaviours and that they are aligned across all departments both on board and in the office.
As mentioned, a high safety-efficacy among employees have a positive effect on the safety culture. This effect can only be enhanced if employees are trained in and exposed to best practice safety behaviours.
With a successful implementation of best practice safety behaviours and an enhanced safety-efficacy among employees, you will very likely see that more employees take a lead on safety and several indications of a strong safety culture will be in place:
- Employees feel comfortable as safety role models and thereby influence each other positively
- There is an open and trusting culture, where employees speak up, share insights and are open to others’ suggestions
- Employees feel confident coming up with and sharing new ideas and better ways of doing
- Employees feel comfortable when they intervene in potentially unsafe situations and acknowledge each other for interventions
- More employees are accountable towards safety and step up when needed
Safety I’s behaviours can help reach a high safety standard
In Green-Jakobsen we have a set of 5 key safety behaviours called the Safety I’sTM.
The Safety I’s behaviours are not directly linked to a certain work process or task. They are better described as general best practice behaviours that are easily integrated into your everyday tasks and work life.
The safety I’s explain and promote simple behaviours like sharing insights among colleagues, coming up with new and better ways of doing, being a good role model, stepping in if someone does an unsafe act, and integrating safety in all we do.
To read more: What can human behaviour do for safety?
Be aware of complacency and negative influence
As described earlier it is not enough to ensure a high safety-efficacy among employees. On the contrary, as in the case D, high safety-efficacy mixed with a low safety standard can lead to a potentially negative influence on the common safety culture.
It is important to also be aware of the risk of complacency and over-confidence. Knowledge and experience have a tendency to be forgotten or distorted if not kept alive and challenged from time to time. A high safety-efficacy that is based solely on e.g. years of experience or low incident rates can create a ‘false security’, because low incident rates are not necessarily due to a high safety performance – maybe it is just due to pure luck.
To avoid this, it is important to embed best safety practices that are based on an improvement mindset and innovative safety behaviours: The strive for always wanting to do better is key. When all employees know that part of showing best safety practice is to always be open to and look for improvements and wanting to do better (never believe that you know everything), we can reduce the grounds for complacency and over-confidence.
The role of the company safety culture
To conclude this first article about safety-efficacy, we have seen that the influential effect of safety-efficacy has the potential to enhance a company’s safety standard. On the other hand, safety-efficacy can also have a negative effect on the company’s safety culture. Therefore, it is important to manage and nurture employees’ safety skills and safety-efficacy.
In this first article focus has been on how the influential effect works from one employee onto the colleagues/surroundings. In the next article focus will be on influencing the individuals’ safety-efficacy through the surrounding company culture, and what companies can do to enhance its employees’ safety-efficacy.