A job in safety is, of necessity, a high-profile position. The ability to work seamlessly with all areas of an operation is critical to your success. Whether you are a safety manager, a member of the safety staff, or you wear a number of hats including safety, the sad truth is that you may not exercise full control over safety.
It is probably true that not many safety people sit at the table with top management and are treated as if they have the full backing and authority of top management. In most cases, there are any number of individuals at all levels that you must coordinate with and report to.
Because employees do not report to the safety leader, they may not always follow all safety guidance. Supervisors are the key to monitoring employee performance on a day-to-day basis. They should be provided their own comprehensive training in order to be brought up to speed on all safety procedures that must be followed by those who they supervise.
While the backing of management and supervision is essential, as a leader who has the best interests of the workforce at heart, one also needs to work to earn the respect of the entire workforce.
A job in safety demands that you cultivate and maintain good working relationships with supervisors and co-workers in order to accomplish your goals. One must be willing to accept the fact that people are human. Accidents do happen and are usually the result of mistakes. Humans make mistakes which can lead to accidents. Indeed, even safety people make mistakes. It takes ongoing effort to minimize mistakes.
While safety personnel should not attempt to arbitrarily implement safety programs in a dictatorial manner, they do need to cultivate a spirit of cooperation in order to meet the goal of continuous improvement. Such improvement should include the implementation of safe operating procedures, training, ongoing mitigation of unsafe conditions, and supervisor oversight. Management’s attention needs to be drawn to the fact that safety can in fact be a profit center, rather than an expense with no payback.
How you are perceived in doing your job is critical to your success. Are you the enforcer, or are you a partner with the workforce, constantly striving to improve the safety of working conditions by identifying unsafe working conditions, ensuring that safety training is effective and up-to-date, and that all safety practices are understood and followed?
Reasons and Causes
Safety is one job where diplomacy is mandatory. It is not just knowing safety protocols that will get the job done. There is the ongoing challenge to instill a positive attitude toward safety—a safety culture. No one wants to get injured on the job. Yet, safety can often be the furthest thing from the minds of employees when they are performing their jobs.
One way to counter this inattention is by incorporating Job Hazard Analyses into on-the-job training. Employees need to know up front the hazards that they may encounter, and the ways that the employer has implemented to counter these hazards.
The job of safety professionals is to identify the REASONS (the Why) that lead to the CAUSES (the What) of accidents. The cause is often straightforward. Objective accident investigation of each reported incident will uncover the reason(s) which may involve a chain of events—the absence of any one link in the chain could have prevented the accident. This is one area where affected coworkers and supervisors need to be involved in order to gather all the facts.
CAUSES must be separated from REASONS. The number of causes of accidents is fairly limited. The vast majority of all accidents can be placed in one of the following eight categories:
- Caught In-Between
- Powered Industrial Vehicles/Transportation
- Contact with Person/Object
- Slips, Trips and Falls
- Ergonomic/Repetitive Motion
- Struck Against
- Struck By.
However, this list provides little help in preventing recurrences. Rather, the REASONS behind the CAUSES of incidents need to be determined so that real progress can be made toward implementing changes that will eliminate recurrences. Below is a partial list of reasons. Add to it from your experience.
Reasons for Accidents
Beyond physical capability
Bypassing safety measures
Equipment design flaws
Error in judgment
Failure to follow procedures
Failure to wear PPE
Ignoring warning signs
Lack of communication
Lack of Job Hazard Analyses
Lack of preparation
Lack of supervision
Loss of focus
Rushing/Moving too quickly
Trying to do too much
Over time, people can become comfortable in the way that they go about their job tasks. They can be resistant to change and may not welcome being told to change even if it is for their own good. Accidents may be the result of unsafe behaviors, such as failure to follow safety rules, inattention, rushing, distractions, and not being aware of the dangers that may exist as part of the job. Front-line supervisors can be the best of allies when it comes to addressing these workforce behaviors and reinforcing good behaviors.
If an unsafe behavior is observed, in most cases that person cannot simply be told to change his/her behavior. Rather, the supervisor must be directly involved in explaining the reasons for the change. Failure to go through a supervisor will risk the latter’s ire for stepping on his/her authority.
If an unsafe condition is noted, it may not be enough to simply write a work order. One may need to justify the findings to any number of authoritative people who have the power to take appropriate action and follow up. In any case, Facilities/Maintenance personnel then need to schedule someone to make the fix, and funds may need to be authorized to accomplish that fix. Delays can occur for a variety of reasons. This is especially true if there is not a good working relationship with the people who control the work.
In a unionized facility, there are certain protocols to be followed. If there is a need to make changes in the actions of individuals, the involvement of a shop steward might well become necessary.
It is important to remember that top management’s main driving forces are production and profit. These factors strongly influence the motivation and performance evaluation of managers and supervisors. An essential part of championing safety is to convince management at all levels that safety should be thought of as an essential part of, rather than a hindrance to, production.
If there is a major incident, where workers are seriously injured and/or production equipment is damaged or shut down, it gets top management’s attention.
Without the backing of top management to do whatever it takes to keep the workforce safe, safety management will always be at the mercy of production requirements and relationships with those who control production. To earn the backing of top management, safety must be championed in terms that management can understand. Can the costs of the facility’s accidents and illnesses, in terms of lost profits due to medical and rehabilitation expenditures, production losses and equipment downtime, be documented? The annual Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index can be referenced to draw added attention to the huge annual cost of workplace accidents.
While getting product out the door is always a top priority, managers and supervisors must be convinced that safety is not just a priority, but a core value. Lip service will not do. A “B” grade for safety is not an adequate goal. Constant safety improvement can benefit both the bottom line and the overall organization performance, both financially and morale-wise.
Investment in safety—whether it be for safety staff funding, personal protective equipment, or employee time allotted for off-the-job safety activities such as safety training, safety committees and safety inspections—should not be considered an expense but an investment. Attitude toward safety is an all-important consideration.
Numerous studies have shown that investment in safety pays dividends, typically from $4 to $6 in reduced operating costs for every dollar spent. OSHA has concluded that injury and illness costs can be reduced by 20%-40% if a safety program is implemented. It is this information that management needs to be made aware of, backed up by documented in-house expenditures for accidents, injuries and job-related illnesses.
Data that track accidents, incidents, recordables and lost-time occurrences need to be publicized in order to draw attention to the fact that safety must be an integral part of day-to-day operations. While incident data are trailing indicators, monthly charts of the number of injuries, recordables, lost-time incidents, lost workdays, and accident-free workdays can draw attention to something that everyone needs to know, i.e., how safe are we? In addition to plotting weekly or monthly data, plotting 6- or 12-month data points provides a better measure of the direction in which a safety program is trending, since such charts will not be susceptible to spikes that can occur when plotting only weekly or monthly data. As they say, “What is measured gets addressed.”
Each year the National Safety Council recognizes high-performance leaders “who get it” when it comes to running a business with safety in mind. How great it must be to be an employee of one of these companies!
In conclusion, management “gets it” when they understand that investment in safety can actually have a significant payback in terms of lowered worker compensation rates, reduced interruption in production, higher worker morale, and even company reputation.
It will make your job so much easier if you can help management to “get it.”
Joseph Werbicki is a retired safety professional whose observations are based on experience gained over a 30-year career in safety management. He has authored numerous articles on safety and developed a number of comprehensive safety training programs, including “Does Safety Really Mean Safe?” and “The Supervisor’s Role in Safety.” Contact him at [email protected].