As safety and health professionals, we continually strive for reduced injuries and illnesses. Instilling our mentality in the rest of the organization creates a culture that puts safety first, which is the smartest way to reduce these numbers and see a change throughout a facility.
In the most effective workplace safety programs, two core concepts make up the mentality that is fostered throughout the organization:
1. Every employee is in the safety department.
Safety begins at the top – as in the top of the organizational chart or the corner office. It’s difficult to get buy-in from all levels of employees if management doesn’t set the tone. Every employee, regardless of his or her role, should feel ownership of safety and understand that is not just something for the “safety guy” to focus on.
It’s also important to remember that management isn’t always on board with safety. Sometimes it’s too costly or takes up too much time. In these cases, be proactive and illustrate the benefits in order to help management understand the importance of safety and the culture that can be created by being safe.
Part of the hurdle when communicating with management is their strict focus on getting the job done. In some cases, this leads to sacrificing safety by not taking time to educate employees about potential safety hazards and proper work techniques. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about trying to get as much done as possible, but about getting as much done in the safest way possible.
2. Use leading indicators for insight.
Leading indicators are a key component of building safer workplaces. Traditionally, many EHS professionals looked at lagging indicators, such as past injury rates, to manage future rates of injuries. However, leading indicators give us a better chance of actually preventing injuries.
Where lagging indicators look at the demonstrated failure of a specific characteristic, leading indicators look to guide and create safer actions that will influence future performance. Leading indicators measure proactive efforts that can uncover weak spots in the system before they become larger complications.
Leading indicators enable us to:
- Use job hazard analyses to quantify risk.
- Create more meaningful inspections and audits.
- Observe, record and act on near misses.
- Become a safer employer/employee.
And don’t discount the importance of observations. As a safety professional, these are your clues. It could be a near miss (someone almost got hit by a forklift) or simply an unsafe behavior (someone not wearing safety glasses in a required area).
Make sure you incorporate these two concepts into your safety program and that they flow throughout the entire organization. A comprehensive and progressive safety culture will make the greatest difference in a facility. After all, employees emulate managers who are truly devoted to having the best possible safety and health program.
Langdon Dement, AEP, GSP, is a safety and health specialist with the Workplace Health and Safety division of UL (Underwriters Laboratories), with a focus on industrial hygiene, patient handling ergonomics and job hazard analysis. His subject matter expertise aids in developing technical content for occupational health and safety training courses and software solutions. He holds an M.S. in occupational safety and health with an emphasis in industrial hygiene from Murray State University and a B.S. in biology from Harding University.