What does it take to inspire people to work safely?

January 29, 2019 11:24 am || || Categorized in:


Having led many large capital projects around the world that had very strong safety records, I was asked by an HSE leader about my approach for creating and inspiring a strong safety culture… this was my response:

  • There is no magic bullet… but the approach of leadership is the most important element of a strong safety program and safety performance
  • Employees will first watch what management does regarding safety and then they will listen to what they say – if these don’t align, the system will fail
  • You can’t drive safety from your desk – leadership must get out and talk with employees and workers about their jobs and about the safety issues surrounding them
  • Leadership must act on what employees tell them needs to be improved in the area – employees will watch for the responses
  • Strong safety performance is based on behaviors (80-90 percent of all accidents/injuries result from behaviors… I would argue that it is 100% because any condition which ‘causes’ an accident probably has an underlying related behavior)
  • The work must be thought out in advance and the rules must be pre-defined for how the work will be done safely – writing out the ‘rules’ won’t make the area safe but it is impossible to have a strong safety performance when expectations are not known
  • Little things add up to big things… watching for and coaching the small rules (PPE use, holding handrails, eyes on path, housekeeping, ergonomic practices, etc.) will cause employees to behave properly in those areas… behaving properly in those ‘little things’ drive behaviors to be applied to the more dangerous activities. Ignoring the little things will cause people to ignore the big things.
  • Leaders must show people that they care about them… leaders aren’t just demanding that rules be followed, they need to be seen to be demonstrating honest concern about the well-being of the employees


I believe deeply in these ideas and I try to implement them wherever I go. We are always just a moment away from an accident… these approaches by leadership yield a higher probability to succeed in maintaining the well-being of employees.

What do you do to inspire your team?

CAI can help you deliver your projects with safety in mind. We have experienced personnel around the world who drive safe project performances:

  • Completed a project in China with excellent safety results (completed several million craft labor hours with zero serious injuries – in collaboration with partners). Project received multiple safety awards from partner and client companies and from industry professional societies.
  • Drove culture change at manufacturing site safety team improving the safety performance from the worst to the best performing site in the collection of manufacturing teams. Used behavior-based safety approaches to influence the improved culture.
  • Established the safety culture of an engineering manufacturing support team which achieved multiple years of injury free performance across the trade personnel.
  • Assisted client in updating safety procedures after witnessing a injury by a contractor on the project team.
  • Interrupted a new employee orientation to address a safety issue that, if not caught at the time, could have impacted personnel, equipment, or production schedules.

Contact us and let’s discuss your projects and your safety program needs.

About the author:

MartinMike-896703-edited Michael Martin, Global Director, Program & Project Project Management  has 32 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He developed a solid technical base and reputation from his early assignments in design, construction, maintenance, and project management. For the past 20+ years, he has been involved in various leadership assignments in manufacturing, engineering, and project management. Mike inspires high performance from his team even in difficult circumstances. He has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to integrate himself into diverse cultures and to get individuals from various cultures to work together and accomplish very difficult goals. Mike brings systematic thinking and organization to the teams he leads, and this approach builds consistency and higher performance as the team develops.

Email Mike at michael.martin@cagents.com