a spotlight on the human aspects of accident prevention

Dealing with constant change in the interest of improving safety

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Over the last 100 years or so, life has changed rapidly, compared to the many centuries before that.  These days, the only thing that anyone is sure about is that things are always changing.

This is especially true in the workplace, especially where there are rapid and regular upgrades in technology, information processing and staff turnover.  Improvements to safety are also taking place at the same time and workers are constantly being trained and re-trained to cope with these changes on a regular basis.

Dealing with constant change can be tiring and can elevate stress levels among the workforce.  Some workers are better than others in adapting to constant change.  Personality, age, life experience and many other circumstances can influence the way a person deals with change.  Organisations that are constantly making improvements to safety and efficiency will be introducing constant changes into the workplace.

Some organisations will find that their workforce may be particularly resistant to change and attitudes such as “We’ve always done it this way” or “Why fix it if it ain’t broke” may prevail.  There may be the assumption that the older we get, the more resistant we become to change.  We assume that resistance to change may come primarily from an aging workforce.  However, recent research into neuroplasticity has shown that it is not the process of aging alone that can influence a person’s ability to cope with change.  The lack of opportunities over the years to engage in intensive new learning is what contributes to an older person experiencing a reduction of plasticity in the brain.  In fact, if an older person were to embrace opportunities to learn something new (eg learning a new skill or a new language), this would actually enable them to cope better in the long term with other changes in the workplace.  New and intensive learning helps to improve brain plasticity over time.

Other organisations may find that their workers will accept constant change and cooperate initially but may eventually start suffering from fatigue and stress as a result.  This may sometimes result in a rapid turnover of workers or a stubborn refusal to participate in yet another new safety incentive or programme.  We must remember that adjusting to change is a process which can take time.  By introducing too many new changes at once, workers can be overwhelmed and this can actually be counter-productive.   Of course changes will always be there in the workplace but organisations can have some degree of control as to how often they introduce change and being aware of how these changes are affecting the workforce at any given time.

Some workers may also be resistant to change if the changes introduce an element of fear or uncertainty into their life at work.  Most of the time, workers may be unaware of their own fears and in such situations, these workers would benefit from the support of a coach who is able to help them understand the source of their fear, lead them through the change and address any concerns that they have about how these changes will affect them.

Ensuring that your organisation is able to thrive and stay resilient amidst constant change is essential to improving safety.  In order to keep up to date with changes in technology and safety and to remain vigilant and alert to any emerging errors in their systems, organisations need workers who are flexible enough to be able to adapt well to changes.  Overcoming resistance to change in your organisation is difficult but is something that cannot be ignored if safety is to remain a number one priority in complex and hazardous workplaces.


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