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Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?

By Bryan McWhorter | Last updated: November 18, 2019
Presented by AD Safety Network

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a pattern that we could follow for safety, to help keep employees safe? As it turns out, there is a pattern and our brain is a pattern-seeking machine. Subconsciously, we are always looking for patterns. When we pull into a parking lot, we're looking for those parking lines to let us know how to park our car.

When we walk into a room, we are looking to see how it's organized to understand what's going on in the room—be it a restaurant, a living room, or a warehouse. What happens when those patterns are gone? Then our anxiety goes up. When we pull into, say, a Walmart parking lot after a fresh snow and all the lines are covered, now anxiety goes up because you've lost that pattern. We don't know how to park—and the cars that are parked are kind of all willy-nilly. We need to be at ease by knowing and recognizing those patterns.


It actually follows three levels and we need all three to keep employees safe. They need to feel safe on all three of these levels:

The 3 levels of Safety

  1. Emotional Safety
  2. Professional Safety
  3. Physical Safety

If we don't follow that pattern and we don't take care of those first two—emotional and professional safety—then we're not going to be able to take care of employee’s physical safety. So, let's look at these really quick.

Emotional Safety

What that means is managers, supervisors, executives need to create a culture where employees feel safe, emotionally. If they make a mistake, they're not going to get their butt chewed over it, they're not going to get harassed. They feel valued and respected. They feel like they're more than just a machine, that their managers or employers really do care about them as people. Remember, we are emotional beings so we will usually put ourselves at risk physically to protect ourselves emotionally. If we've got goals or things we need to do to show good performance at work, again, we'll take risks to protect that emotion of not wanting to explain why we failed at something. So, we need to know that we are valued as employees and we're valued as people—that my supervisor sees me as a friend and cares about me as more than just a machine—someone that's expendable—that's just there working by the hour.

Professional Safety

Managers and supervisors need to create a culture where we feel safe as an employee. So, if I make a mistake I'm not going to get demoted or fired. Again, we will take risks to protect our job. If I know that my numbers failing, say, in a manufacturing environment can get me fired—then maybe I'll take the risk of working with the equipment running, when I should shut it down to make adjustments or do something.

We need to feel safe at our work. This is our livelihood, how we earn a living. So we've got to know that we're protected. I love companies like Next Jump, Google, Proctor & Gamble, Toyota, Southwest Airlines that go a long way towards showing loyalty to their employees. Toyota made a comment a long time ago that, "We would never fire an employee for performance issues." They saw performance issues as an opportunity to improve training and to improve how they did their production system. So, if somebody made a mistake that impacted performance, well, probably others had made that same mistake, so we need to look at how to create a better system. But there's loyalty there, and that goes a long way for the employees to feel valued. So if they feel safe emotionally and professionally, then they can feel safe physically and work safe. If they don't feel safe emotionally, they will take risks to protect their pride. If they don't feel safe career-wise, well, they'll take risks to protect their job.

Physical Safety

So, only when those two are in place, when that that pattern is followed, will employees work safe. When you tell your employees to work safe but you're not doing those first two, they're not going to believe it, and why would they? Again, would you believe people want you to work safe when you know they don't care about you emotionally or as an employee? Those first two have to be in place, then safety will be elevated. Then you create a safety-first culture, but if you skip those first two, safety is not going to work.

It's human nature, it's that way for all of us. We'll put ourselves at risk physically to protect ourselves emotionally, and we'll definitely do it to protect our jobs. So, make sure your employees feel safe on all three of those levels. Follow that pattern. Show that they are valued emotionally as people. That they are cared for—that they are part of your team, part of your family—and that they are protected for their job. One mistake isn't going to get them demoted or fired. Then you can work on protecting them physically, so there is no blood on the floor at the end of the day.

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Written by Bryan McWhorter | Lead Safety Advisor, Author, Writer, Speaker

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Bryan McWhorter is a safety professional with eight years of experience in driving and teaching safety. Bryan gained his knowledge and experience as the safety officer and Senior Trainer for Philips Lighting. Philips is a strong health and well-being company that promotes a safety first culture.

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