Expert: Safety Obsolete Without Effective Management Systems

April 3, 2006
Having an efficient and effective management system is important in any company if it aims to improve its safety performance record, according to safety expert from the Dow Chemical Co.

Donald Jones, Dow Chemical's safety manager, during his presentation at the American Society of Safety Engineers' safety symposium discussed how leadership strategies within safety and health management systems was vital to preventing accidents and injuries.

"You can definitely see great leadership in sports where the quarterback is not necessarily the best player, but carried confidence and knew how to lead the team," he said. "A safety management team should emulate this at some level."

Having safety meetings, performing hazard identification and analysis, getting employees to participate their opinions on safety as well as providing them with safety and health training are not only necessary, but also helps the company as whole become indoctrinated in building a hazard-free environment.

The first thing a company serious about safety has to have is management commitment, according to Jones. "It's like getting to first base," he said. "It's the first thing to have.

"Also, you have to walk the talk," said Jones, referring to the next step, which is leading by example. If workers don't see the managers out in the field performing work in a safe manner, the workers won't see their commitment to safety and therefore won't take safety as seriously, according to him.

The steps that follow equal protection to all employees regardless of their position, a disciplinary system and an annual evaluation are all required in effective safety management systems.

Jones also emphasized that while having trailing indicators (lower workplace injury and illness case rates, lower lost-time injury and illness case rates, timely reporting and fewer lost days) were important, management systems were needed to prevent accidents.

"Behavior-based safety, I think, is a pretty successful measure," he said. "Either you can intervene [as unsafe behaviors occur] or you can identify trends that can lead to accidents.

Once these are in place, benefits such as reduced injuries/illnesses, increased productivity, lower costs and improved morale will naturally follow, Jones said.

But don't expect results immediately, he cautioned. Jones said in his experience, depending on the specific operation, it can take from 1.5 to 2 years to experience the benefits of a strong safety management program.

In the end, management should be putting such safety requirements in place, not to gain a reward such as a OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) award, for example which would be nice, Jones admitted but to improve the company's performance in safety.

"I believe in management systems; they have worked in all five of the Dow sites that I manage," he said. "If there's a company that wants to improve, it needs to understand it needs to follow certain requirements to make it work."

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