Line Management Key to Successful Safety Program

To create line management safety and health leadership, start at\r\nthe top, says speaker at ASSE conference.

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The No. 1 reason why safety programs fail is because line management is not accountable or responsible for safety performance at companies, according to Samuel J. Gualardo, CSP, a speaker at one of Tuesday''s sessions of the American Society of Safety Engineers'' Professional Development Conference at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Gualardo, professor of occupational safety and health at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, gave attendees methods to successfully engage line managers in any organization for achieving safety performance excellence. "Safety performance will not achieve maximum success without line management," he said.

Because it is line managers who directly supervise line workers, they should have the greatest influence over developing a culture that promotes safe practices. Gualardo, also president of National Safety Consultants and Engineers Inc., mentioned several reasons why line managers typically do not accept responsibility for safety:

  • Line managers believe unfounded perceptions. Production is seen as more important than safety. Safety goes against the grain of production output and gets in the way of meeting production goals. "They don''t think safety is their job," Gualardo said. Furthermore, they falsely believe that it is OK to sacrifice safety to meet production and budget targets.
  • They have no assigned responsibility. Even if you can convince line managers that they have responsibility for safety, that responsibility is not clearly defined.
  • There are no measurable performance objectives. Because safety goals do not exist, improvement objectives are not being established and management safety activities are not being measured, Gualardo said.
  • Line managers have no performance accountability. Companies too often do not hold line managers accountable for poor safety performance. For example, salary increases are not withheld, nor bonuses impacted when safety results are below expectations.
  • Companies do not allocate resources. Facilities will see little progress in improving safety performance, Gualardo said, unless supervisor and employee training and education occur, safety equipment is provided, and time and money are allocated.
  • Safety professionals continue to do the job of line management. Line managers will not get involved in the process as long as the safety department handles all aspects of communicating expectations, investigating accidents, conducting safety meetings, performing inspections, chairing safety committees, leading safety training, assessing worker compliance and ensuring accountability.
  • Senior management resolve is not being demonstrated. The most important reason line managers do not feel accountable or responsible for safety performance is because it is not driven by senior management, Gualardo said. Commitment by senior managers is not visibly demonstrated, expectations are not established or regularly communicated from the top, poor safety performance is tolerated and perceived as acceptable, good performers are not being recognized, and poor performers are not being scrutinized.

Line managers need to be sold on their safety responsibilities, but will only buy into it if they see something in it for them, Gualardo said, adding that selling needs to be done from the top down. "If I was one of those line managers, I wouldn''t accept responsibility for safety either if it was not being driven at the senior management level," he said.

Most safety and health managers have forgotten that the senior manager is the most critical factor in motivating line managers, Gualardo said. Senior managers "have the power to change the norms, beliefs and assumptions that influence safe behavior." Because senior managers are the only ones who can permit line managers to focus on safety, it is the job of safety professionals to get the attention of these decision-makers. If senior managers will demonstrate commitment, involvement and accountability to safety, Gualardo said, they can empower line managers to do the same.

Along with holding line managers accountable for work group performance, workers'' actions, regulatory infractions and accidents, top management needs to provide the culture, time and resources to ensure success, and recognize and reward that success.

by Todd Nighswonger

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