Become A Safety Leader

Dec. 1, 2007
We're all players on the field, not bench warmers!

Developing safety leaders in your business can mean the difference between marginal and world-class results. It long has been accepted that successful programs push the responsibility for safety down into the organization, utilizing the power of many to foster a safe work environment. In most cases, this requires line supervisors and all employees to take on additional responsibility in an already stretched workforce.

With additional responsibilities, supervisors and employees struggle to prioritize and complete safety tasks. Without the proper understanding of how and why it is important to become a safety leader, a gap in management expectations and employee perceptions develops.

Supervisors and employees believe management wants them to get product out the door at all costs: production, production, production. Management believes they have successfully communicated the expectation to produce products safely and have empowered team members to become safety leaders. In many cases, this gap between management expectations and employee perception develops into placing blame instead of growing leadership abilities.

If you want to develop successful safety leaders, consider the following:

  • Serve the customer;
  • Talk safety;
  • Walk safety;
  • Do safety.

Serve the Customer

Leadership begins at an early age. When we are children, we learn to follow as our parents set rules or correct misbehavior. As teenagers, we feel the influences of peer pressure and tend to follow others. In adulthood, we have to make decisions to follow others or lead them in a positive manner. Great leaders learn to serve their teammates and customers toward a common goal.

When it comes to safety, the customers are our fellow employees and we need to learn how to serve them just as we serve our external customers. When you produce a product or service for an external customer, the goal typically is to produce a high-quality, low-cost widget on time. When dealing with internal customers, there is no difference. In safety, the common goal is going home uninjured and it takes an entire team of safety leaders to achieve it.

Talk Safety

Imagine you have been asked to address all employees at a group meeting and discuss how the team can improve the site’s safety record. You just were informed of the meeting 5 minutes ago and have no time to prepare. What do you say?

Safety leaders know they have to address employees all the time about safety and are prepared in advance. One way to make sure you have a consistent, positive message is to develop a one-liner and an elevator speech.

One-Liner – We need to work together to reach our common safety goal. Can I count on you to work in a safe manner?

Elevator Speech – We are coming off a strong year where the team has done an excellent job watching out for each other and reducing accidents. The road is long, but with everyone’s help and support we can reach our safety goals. Let’s make good choices and stay safe! Everyone goes home unhurt to his or her family here!
Your personal one-liner and elevator speech makes sure safety is on your mind and can be communicated consistently and positively to other team members even on short notice.

Talk positively about safety at every opportunity, serving others by showing your support for the common goal of going home uninjured. The more safety is talked about, the more it is on people’s minds, helping to develop safe behaviors and reduce injuries.

Walk Safety

In the winter time, many organizations work diligently to remove ice from walkways and entrances. Ice easily can be missed and can re-form quickly, exposing employees to slip-and-fall hazards. Recently, I reviewed a facility that had three slip-and-fall incidents on the same morning, in the same area. A bucket of salt was located near the entrance but no one took action to put the salt down. When asked why, the response was, “That’s not my job.”

It is easy to turn a blind eye when you see unsafe conditions or actions. Perhaps you have other things on your mind, are tired of asking or simply want to avoid a difficult employee. When you walk safety, you have to do it through your actions. Every time you turn a blind eye and allow something you shouldn’t, you lose your focus of serving others and expose team members to potentially serious injuries.

A lack of safety leadership and an unwillingness to serve others can lead to avoidable injuries. Take the time to walk safety every chance you get. It could make the difference between an injured worker and an employee returning home safe at the end of the shift.

Do Safety

Plan ahead and know how you are going to integrate safety into your daily routine. Maybe you set time a side every morning and start each meeting with safety or make a commitment to not turn a blind eye. Whatever your plan, you have to develop it now and find a way to integrate safety regularly into your daily routine. Keep it simple and start out slowly so it is an easy transition.

Making safety easy and creating value in being a safety leader are critical steps in successfully doing safety. Often, the actions employees take go unnoticed, leaving many to feel unappreciated for the contributions they make. Building positive relationships, saying thank you and showing appreciation can promote safe behaviors and help ensure employees feel valued.

Team Effort

Safety is a team game that takes involvement from everyone. Developing employees into safety leaders and fostering an action-based safety culture while pushing responsibility for safety down into an organization creates a team-based approach that results in superior performance. This approach allows all employees to be players on the field and not just bench warmers.

Sidebar: Tips to Become a Successful Safety Leader

  • Be a positive influence on others.
  • Be proactive and take action to avoid injuries.
  • Work toward common goals.
  • Serve the customer.
  • Practice the “talk, walk and do” safety model.
  • Don’t take chances. You know when you are doing something you should not do.
  • Tactfully confront co-workers who are not working safely and get “buy in” for safe work practices.
  • Don’t leave it for the next person.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Serve to better others and not yourself.
  • Concentrate on what you can do.

Joe Tavenner CSP, CFPS, has years of experience, a bachelors and masters degree in Occupational Safety Management and an MBA in Management. For more information contact him at [email protected].

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