Accentuating the positive

Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

We are in the business of changing hearts and minds, so that individuals make positive choices to look after themselves and others as part of the actions and decisions they make.

Negative headlines, fines, problems and inspections all focus on what is wrong or what people can’t do. These begin to follow us around like a negatively-charged dark cloud. Perhaps we should reflect on our own behaviour because our words and actions can have a profound effect.

Positivity is infectious; it’s motivating, engaging and it makes people feel better about themselves. Negativity makes people switch off and turn away. Let’s encourage what people can do rather than say what they can’t.

Negative words creep into language subconsciously. Contrast “don’t forget to…” with “remember to...”, or “I mustn’t be late” with “it’s important I’m on time”. Avoid “I’m busy now but might be able to fit you in next week”, and instead try “let’s get together next week when I can give you my full attention”. Problems are recast as challenges; it’s a subtle change but it creates a different outlook.

Does your voicemail message say you “can’t take a call”? Remove the negative words – but even better, forward your number to a colleague who can respond; it’s great customer service too.

Incident data contains important information to identify priorities and trends. But this is information about what has gone wrong.

Organisations that focus purely on reducing incidents find that people stop reporting them. So challenge everyone to report more, but measure reductions in severity.

Nothing can be more negative than creating lists of ideas or things to do without considering how to achieve them

Use data to create initiatives or programmes looking at what individuals can do rather than what they can’t. Use scoring systems and key performance indicators positively. Name those who do well. Tell the directors, take pictures, talk about it on social media, and say “well done”. At the end of the year, have an awards ceremony. Make a fuss of those doing well; reward success.

Focus on strengths and positive practice in reports, especially executive summaries.

I was recently on site with a team facing some OSH challenges. Since our previous meeting they had made progress as a result of tackling group-level arrangements. But things were still far from perfect. I focused on efforts made to challenge the norm rather than what was left to do. The mood instantly lifted and I know that when I go back the rest will have been done.

I wonder whether we rush in to take control too often. Perhaps we should let go more. Sometimes people will take responsibility only when we release ours. If we do a great job we are needed less over time and we should embrace this rather than fear it.

It’s easy to come up with great ideas and say we can do things when there’s a limit to the working week. Nothing can be more negative than creating lists of ideas or things to do without considering how to achieve them. So be honest and realistic. Prioritise and take your time. Pressure is positive, stress is not.

Be positive about yourself, those around you and what you do. Smile more. Every single success has contributed to the health and wellbeing of the people around you. Keep going, you’re doing a fantastic job!


Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

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