Workplace Normalization and 5 Ways to Fight It

Author: Rene Garcia

In describing workplace injuries they have suffered, many employees say that “they weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.” It’s easy to assume those employees are misremembering, omitting parts of the truth, or outright lying. But what if they aren’t? What if these employees simply didn’t realize that what they were doing was possibly dangerous? This is called normalization.

“Normalization happens when workers repeatedly engage in risky behavior and do not suffer a bad outcome,” says Danny Shields, Director of Industry Relations at Avetta. “They become comfortable and develop a false sense of security which makes it harder to remain aware of the risks associated with that behavior.” A common outcome of normalization is workplace accidents that happen later in a project. Workers become comfortable with a site and lower their guard to potential risks. Fortunately, organizations can combat this phenomenon with commonsense best practices. 

5 Smart Ways to Help Prevent Workplace Normalization

Proper Contractor and Supplier Vetting: “This is at the core of ensuring safety,” says Shields. “With outsourcing at an all-time high, it is important to make sure all contractors that come to your site value safety as much as you and are held to the same safety standard as your own employees.” With so many companies composing the supply chain, vetting can be a laborious and time consuming task. Moreover, it isn’t enough to vet once for the lifetime of a relationship since a supplier can fall out of compliance at any time. Instead, organizations should employ a dedicated supply chain management solution to ensure proper and consistent vetting of any potential supplier, contractor, or vendor.

Maintaining a Strong Safety Culture: “Workers’ own caution will help them stay safe at the beginning of a project, but a strong safety culture will help them stay cautious throughout the project,” says Shields. Also referred to as psychological safety, safety culture builds good habits among the workforce instead of letting the workforce build bad habits on their own. Recognizing danger even without experiencing it is a key component to reducing risk in the workplace.

Site-Specific Training: “While a strong safety culture is a good foundation for ensuring safe behavior, get granular and provide proper training at each of your sites,” advises Shields. An experienced workforce is both a boon and a potential liability when it comes to safety. Every worksite is different and offers their own risks. A best practice is to treat each new worksite as a unique environment that requires its own training.

Reinforcing Safety Later in Projects: Since accidents are more likely to happen later in projects, it’s important to provide training throughout the project instead of just once at the beginning. It’s easy for employees to grow complacent or stop observing every safety practice once they acclimate to the environment. That’s when accidents happen, and a safety refresher course can go a long way in preventing injury.

Performing Third-Party Site Audits: Workers aren’t the only ones who can experience normalization. Even internal safety professionals may stop recognizing certain risks when so many days go by without a workplace injury. That’s why fresh eyes from an outside perspective can point out issues that internal inspectors have gone blind to.

For any organization, human capital is one of the most important resources, and it must be spent wisely. Experienced workers offer better productivity and provide business continuity. It’s reckless to remove them from the workforce due to something as avoidable as workplace normalization.

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