What Does Inclusion and Belonging Have to Do with Your Safety Program?

How does inclusion and belonging affect your safety program? When we are feeling excluded our awareness narrows. The brain is focused on thinking about that moment of rejection or just feeling sad, or angry.

It’s a tape that plays over and over in the head. Why won’t they listen to me? Why can’t I be understood? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with them?

It would be hard to prove a causal link between a fatality and exclusion, and it could not be considered the only cause.  However, it was found to be a primary cause in 56% of car crash deaths where the victim drove away angrily after a violent altercation and perceived social rejection (Baylor College of Medicine 2018).

Loss of social relationship has also been linked to the decision to leave a job with nurses. Among the seven factors examined in the nurses’ 2007 study, one of the most important predictors of them leaving their job was affected social relationships. The others were increased workload and stress and the perceived risks associated with the work (Shiao et.al. 2007).

Without inclusion, self-protection takes over. Fear of of exclusion can take the form of violence but the most typical is withdrawal. It usually takes the form of silence, but can also take the form of resigning. As the following story illustrates:

“I wrote in an anonymous safety team survey that it was very hard to get new ideas heard. The facilitator read it out loud at the teambuilding meeting. The Chair immediately said, “Whoever wrote that is going to have to own up to it because I just don’t understand.” I felt she was saying, “You’re a coward”

The whole thing was that I wrote it because I had experienced stonewalling many times. No matter what I brought up there was a reason it wouldn’t work as an immediate response. There wasn’t any question like, “Oh tell me why you think that would work or lets explore that for a moment.”

I am a reasonable person. If you look at my idea and you don’t think it will work because you’ve had experience with it then I accept it, especially because I am a newcomer and you’ve had all the experience.  I wasn’t about to say anything in that room I was already an outsider, that would only make me more of an outsider.

I used to be naïve that way. I would have spoken up with the thought that the truth adds value and expands the capability of the team, but not anymore. It doesn’t matter now true something is if the group doesn’t listen; you’re just wasting your time. That’s when I decided to resign from the team (Carrillo, 2018 personal correspondence).”

How many ideas or observations have been shut down this way? How many accidents or even fatalities could have been prevented if we could have created a safe space? Anonymous surveys don’t create belonging and inclusion. What does is the willingness to listen and being open to accepting that someone else has seen something we’ve missed.

Baylor College of Medicine (2018). Psychiatric and legal aspects of automobile fatalities. Downloaded 9/26/2018 https://trid.trb.org/view/114073

Shiao, Judith Shu-Chu, D. Koh, L. Lo, M. Lim and Y. L. Guo (2007).  Nurs Ethics. 14; 5.

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