Sensitivity and Safety

There was an often-repeated one-liner going around workplaces in the 90s: “I don’t need sexual harassment training, I’m already really good at it!” But times change and that same one-liner that was funny 30 years ago sounds antiquated and insensitive now.

These days, it makes sense to choose the words you use carefully. But what does sensitivity have to do with safety? Think about it this way, when you encourage your people to create an atmosphere of inclusion; when you create a place that is emotionally and physically safe for people to work, you’re probably reducing stress and anxiety for more than just a few of your people.

Harassment and abuse come in many different forms. Too often, offensive speech, inappropriate touching, asking for dates or favors, or mocking or teasing (about race, sexual orientation, gender, or even political party) is laughed away when the offender says, “Just kidding!” or “Can’t you take a joke!” Let your people know that whatever form it comes in, harassment and abuse are not okay.

If you have an anti-harassment policy in place, take a few minutes to review it with your people. Explain that the safety of your crew is paramount, and that it’s harder for anyone to work safely when they’re worrying about the next insult, cat-call, or rude joke. If your company doesn’t have a formal anti-harassment policy, consider developing one.

Your human resources department (even if that’s just you) may have access to a template that you can start with. Remember, the policy that you design is meant to help foster an overall environment. You’re committed to the physical safety of your people. We know enough about the human brain to say with some certainty that emotional safety can affect physical safety.

Especially in a workplace that prides itself on being tough, this material can be difficult to talk about. But just like a well-run safety program, if you do it right, you’ll never know whose life you’ve changed for the better.