Overcoming limiting mindsets to improve safety

Decades of a compliance-based approach safety has had a negative effect on attitudes towards safety. A report by McKinsey finds that rewarding people for working safely will improve attitudes and break through the current stasis in construction safety. Scratchie is a safety rewards platform that aligns profoundly with the solutions McKinsey proposed.
December 10, 2022
James Kell
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Overcoming limiting mindsets to improve safety

Builders spend a lot of time and money on safety systems. Yet data from Worksafe Australia shows that in the past seven years, workplace safety – as measured by deaths per 100,000 workers – has not improved. 

Source: Safe Work Australia

A report by McKinsey in 2019 sheds light on the subject.  The report states that an organization’s efforts to change safety culture often reaches a plateau. This can be attributed to focusing too heavily on technologies and procedures while neglecting the underlying employee mindsets that influence personal safety behaviours and interactions.

This post sumnarises the McKinsey report and shows how Scratchie is the only app in the market that directly enables the solutions as proffered by the McK report.

Five Limiting Mindsets

We look into the five pervasive mindsets in organizations that impede safety outcomes.

1. Fear of blame: “If I report an incident, I’ll be punished”

More than 60% of the employees interviewed at a sizable transportation company were concerned about the repercussions of reporting an injury. Management set up safety regulations and penalties for breaking them to prevent employees from becoming hurt.

Employees may underreport important incidences as a result of this, which is one of the unintended effects of doing so. Management and employees miss the chance to learn from near-misses and minor incidents when issues aren't reported.

While employees are more likely to accept punishments when they are included in the decision-making process over how offences are handled, businesses can do better.

Making sure that staff members are rewarded or recognized right away for adopting safe behaviours and reporting accidents or near-accidents is even more important. This fosters desired behaviours for real safety and encourages reporting.

2. Disempowerment: “Safety is someone else’s job”

The absence of employee empowerment is pervasive in firms that struggle to enhance their safety performance. While some people may be seen as being responsible for safety, others may be more concerned with conformity and following rules.

This fosters a culture of finger-pointing and division stemming from the negative paradigm associated with safety, where "zero" is the desired outcome and anything less that that is some form of failure.

Organizations can adopt a "managed safety" strategy to promote employee empowerment. In other words, management can rely on workers to make decisions based on their judgment in situations where strictly adhering to safety regulations either wouldn't be sufficient to ensure safety or could pose a risk.

This managed safety approach relies on discretion and on employees who think and make decisions: this is anathema to the prevailing safety mindset, but is crucial.

Leaders must reward teams who take initiative to increase safety to combat disempowerment. Scratchie provides the tools for rewarding such discretion, encouraging sensible decision making and empowerment.

3. Trade-off: “Safety means less productivity” mindset

Productivity and safety are frequently seen as competing interests. In this paradigm, employees may feel pressure to prioritize productivity over safety if management doesn't communicate that safety comes first.

The requirements for both safety and productivity must be integrated as leaders create clear safety standards that take into consideration current procedures. Employees may find themselves balancing conflicting demands when these processes aren't connected, which can harm cross-functional relationships.

Providing rewards for safe work reinforces the priority that management applies to safety. Understanding that safety and productivity are not zero-sum components is key.

4. Fatalism: “Injuries are part of the job”

Some operators think that taking risks is just part of the job. A maintenance worker revealed that he frequently got scrapes and bruises at work but didn't report them because he thought they were common.

People are left with the impression that zero injuries are unachievable—even in firms whose managers claim to have signed up for "zero safety occurrences." Put simply, zero is not motivating. Abundance thinking does away with zero.

Businesses that succeed in doing away with this constrictive mindset align leadership and staff on the idea that safety can be rewarding in its own right.

Positive, leading indicators like the quantity and calibre of field encounters are added by companies to the set of health and safety KPIs. People committed to the goals and, in most cases, exceeded them once the proper context had been developed.

Scratchie's platform, with its rich data trove of lead indicators, does just this.

5. Complacency: “Cultural change takes time”

Many managers believe that changing a culture is a Sisyphean task. Even managers who are devoted to change frequently have modest expectations about how quickly things will improve, which breeds passivity and complacency.

Understandably, success requires components such as involving key influencers, creating momentum and delivering early victories. Using tools that optimise these components can make a significant difference.

One chemical manufacturer sold off a facility that had the worst safety, productivity, and financial results in the group because it thought the culture of the facility could not be changed. The new factory owner redesigned operational procedures, enhanced plant cleanliness, corrected critical safety flaws, and gave workers much-needed training and incentives.

Three months later, the factory's profitability had greatly increased, and accidents were essentially nonexistent. It was led by leaders whose every action and word showed an uncompromising dedication to the safety and well-being of everyone connected with the firm. The speed and extent of the turnaround in performance and culture were extraordinary.

Scratchie provides the connection between leaders and workers, giving credibility to the statements made by leaders on the primacy of safety by rewarding workers for such safe behaviours.

Four Methods for Shifting Mindsets

The above five points outline the limiting mindsets that are holding back safety improvements. Taking action to achieve a mindset shift is critical to effectively change employee behaviours. Here are four methods for doing so:

1. Reward safe behaviours

Positive reinforcement should be used by organizations to promote desired behaviours. Businesses naturally prefer to concentrate on responding to unfavourable outcomes in safety monitoring accidents and injuries. Instead, management should emphasize preferred behaviours through reinforcement mechanisms, and over time, mind-sets will change to reflect this. This is the heart of Scratchie.

2. Clarify that safety is a priority

Leaders need to be clear that productivity and safety cannot be compromised in order for an organization to maintain a healthy safety culture. Wherever there is a conflict, productivity must take a back seat to safety. Nevertheless when safety is properly valued, productivity improvements frequently follow.


3. Develop soft skills

Managers must develop the skills necessary to recognize systemic problems and to foster a culture of open communication. Operators must be able to recognize risks, manage them, and contribute to a supportive, caring team atmosphere.

Scratchie provides the environment to have a positive conversation. When a supervisor has a tool to directly reward workers who are working safely, this drops barriers between worker and supervisor, and encourages a free exchange of ideas.

4. Role model behaviours from the top

Employee mindsets frequently mirror those of their leaders and influencers because role modelling, whether positive or negative, eventually builds company culture. Managers should be aware of setting an example for desired behaviours and demonstrating a sincere dedication to safety.


Companies have looked into a number of ways to increase workplace safety. The key to creating a safety culture is recognizing and overcoming limiting mindsets to achieve transformational safety outcomes.

Conquering these limiting mindsets is achieved with Scratchie’s positive safety app.  Scratchie enables you to reward and incentivise safe work. This nurtures a positive work environment that empowers workers to manage safety at all levels and be recognized for their efforts.

Scratchie employs a clear and transparent approach that leaders can easily manage and uphold to promote their commitment to safety. Scratchie's goal is to improve workplace safety and culture for the long term as it embodies principles that challenge the pervasive limiting mindsets. Schedule a demo with us if you would like to learn more.

Source: McKinsey and Company, 2019: Overcoming limiting mind-sets to improve safety by Hortense de la Boutetière, Jean-Benoît Grégoire Rousseau, and Eion Turnbull

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