Early in my adulthood, I was taught by a personal mentor that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I quickly learned that this advice was not only applicable in the social realm but also an effective value to implement professionally.

The vast majority of employees under our care as EHS professionals could care less about the initials behind our names, be they PE, CSP, CIH, CHST, OHST, STS, COSS or anything else. To most employees, these designations are equivalent to ABC and XYZ. What most do care about and respect is our genuine and sincere desire to protect their health and safety.

Dealing with Confrontation

In my duties as a safety professional, I have been a part of and witnessed several confrontations related to the mitigation (or attempted mitigation) of an unsafe or otherwise hazardous situation an employee was engaged in.

Early in my career, I (both consciously and subconsciously) felt a need to justify my status as a “safety pro” and thus found myself facing confrontation by passionately regurgitating my regulatory knowledge in an effort to “win.” Typically, this passion only raised the passion of my counterpart who was resolute about justifying his/her actions. This approach to safety management often resulted in mitigating a hazard once, with the same employee partaking in the same (or similar) action shortly thereafter. I’ve also witnessed the looks of disinterest and frustration of workers listening to similar lectures coming from others.

On the contrary, I have both partaken in and witnessed the success of an approach focused on establishing common ground and an understanding of the hazard at hand, which resulted in a mutual understanding of the best approach to safely (and compliantly) accomplish an activity.

One thing that is similar about these opposite approaches is the passion involved. It takes passion to act as a safety czar bent on displaying knowledge and garnering personal pride. It also takes passion to thoughtfully and purposefully establish a mutual understanding of the hazard and the appropriate mitigation of the hazard. The difference between the two is the direction of the passion. The former is directed at an inward ambition for glory while the latter is directed at an outward desire for leaving an impact that will effect lasting change.


While it’s easy to say that avoiding argumentative confrontation focused on one or the other party winning will yield better results, actually avoiding argumentative confrontation can be tough, especially when being provoked by a willing opposite party. Keeping the big picture (the health and safety of the work force) and a focused effort to establish common ground in mind will go a long way in averting an argument and engaging in a fruitful discussion where both parties benefit.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey calls this a win-win situation. He explains the principle as the intentional action of genuinely striving for a mutually beneficial solution or agreement. This shows value and respect for people by understanding that a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his or her way.

This way, the worker wins by avoiding entering into or continuing a hazardous activity and thus remaining safe and healthful, and the EHS professional wins by not only mitigating the hazard but by establishing good will with and garnering the respect of the worker.

Teach Them to Fish

Most seasoned EHS professionals have learned that it is much more efficient to lead a progressive EHS culture that is focused on personal responsibility for safety than it is to lead a safety effort where the workers are more focused on avoiding the safety person than the hazard.

An approach that puts the full weight of recognizing and mitigating hazards on the EHS professional (who of course cannot be in all places at once) often leads to the same hazards appearing over and over, as workers either don’t know how or don’t want to address their own health and safety.

Although establishing a progressive EHS culture is time consuming and requires a serious investment of time and resources, the return on investment is significant, as employees are trained and empowered to recognize and mitigate hazards. This approach to HSE management will lead to effective, lasting and dividend-paying change in employee behavior related to EHS.

The postings on this site represent my personal opinions and statements and do not represent or reflect the opinions, positions or strategies of AECOM Technology Corp. or its subsidiaries or affiliated entities.

Turn Safety Confrontations into Win-Win Situations
EHS Today