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The Top 10 Ways to Improve Safety Management

Dec. 11, 2003
A panel of safety experts offer their advice to improve the management of the safety process and foster leadership.

Safety management can be a touchy topic. Disagreements abound: Should companies go the route of behavior-based safety, or follow a systems approach? Should safety be management-driven or employee-driven? What metrics should be used to assess the safety process?

We recently spoke to a number of experts in the occupational safety and health field. Though some of their recommendations seem at odds with each other and they approach safety from different perspectives, two themes reverberated throughout the comments. The first was the need for safety leadership, not just safety management. The second was the need to incorporate safety into the organizational structure of the business and not treat it as a separate function.

Here is what they had to say:

1) Recognize the difference between managing and leading Tom Krause, Ph.D., CEO of Behavioral Science Technology Inc.

Krause, who along with John Hidley, M.D., pioneered the application of behavioral science methods to safety with Behavioral Advanced Performance Process (BAPP) technology, says organizations can improve safety management by recognizing the difference between managing and leading, and should place more emphasis on leading. "By managing, organizations make things happen. It's a linear, practical function," says Krause. "By leading, organizations show employees why safety matters, why they should be motivated to get behind it and want to do it."

He has found that most companies are very strong on the managing side. They know how to make things happen. On the leading side, however, "there are usually significant opportunities" for improvement, says Krause.

"It is so pivotal to understand the difference between managing and leading, especially at the senior level," says Krause. "If senior leadership gets it right, then the culture will change. If senior management doesn't get it right, then everything else is like swimming upstream. It's a struggle."

2) Integrate all aspects of the safety "program" into a single comprehensive management system Richard Fulwiler, Sc.D., CIH, president, Technology Leadership Associates

After retiring as global director of health and safety for Procter & Gamble with 28 years of service, Fulwiler became president of Technology Leadership Associates, which specializes in increasing individual effectiveness and improving organizational capacity in the safety area. He advises, "Don't have a number of stand-alone programs such as lockout/tagout, job safety analysis, behavior-based safety, confined space entry, etc. Instead, be sure that all elements of the safety program are integrated into a single management system that is owned by line management."

Fulwiler suggests developing and deploying a "before-the-fact" metric for measuring safety performance that leads to predictable and desired results. "In other words, focus on a system that prevents problems versus just solving problems, much the way fire prevention (before the fact) is superior to fire fighting (after the fact)," he says.

3) "POLICE" your safety program James "Skipper" Kendrick, CSP, president, American Society of Safety Engineers and manager, Industrial Safety & Hygiene, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.

"Management does not need to do anything special to improve the integration of occupational safety, health and the environment into the business realm," says Kendrick. "Safety needs to be managed at the same degree as every other aspect of business. The same amount of management skill and effort needs to be applied to safety as with quality, cost, schedule, production, etc."

He suggests using the acronym POLICE Plan, Organize, Lead, Inspect, Correct, Evaluate to focus on safety management.

He offers this description of POLICE:

Plan "Plan for safety, health and the environment (SH&E) in everything you do."

Organize "Organize so that SH&E is an equal player with all other business entities."

Lead "Lead by example, walk the talk. As one executive said to me recently, 'If you want to know my position on safety, watch my shoes.'"

Inspect/Investigate "Look for hazards and press for a timely corrective action. Investigate why the conditions exist, look for root cause and again drive for mistake-proof solutions."

Correct/Coach/Commend "Correct items/situations found in a timely manner. Actively coach for safe performance. Commend safe activity and performance."

Evaluate "How is the system/program functioning? Evaluate, develop solutions and press for continued improvement."

4) Integrate safety into the processes of the business Donald J. Eckenfelder, CSP. P.E., principal consultant, Profit Protection Consultants

"Don't have anything beginning with the word 'safety'," counsels Eckenfelder, author of Values-Driven Safety. "Don't have safety meetings, safety processes, safety committees." In other words, have production meetings, manufacturing processes and work committees, because otherwise, "you isolate safety and when it's treated separately, it tends to be subordinated," he says.

Eckenfelder, a past president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, says one characteristic shared by companies that have world-class safety is "they tend not to have safety professionals or safety meetings. Those are integrated into the business process. The outcome is that the responsibility for safety is shared by everyone."

Those companies also care as much about employees' off-the-job safety as on-the-job safety, and they focus on the process, rather than the numbers. "If you ask someone at a company with world-class safety about accident and injury rates, often, they can't answer you because they don't know," says Eckenfelder. "But they can speak to you at length about the integration of safety into the business."

5) Identify clients and internal customers who see value in your services and make those customers your boss Larry Hansen, CSP, ARM, principal of L2H Speaking of Safety Inc., and Dan Zahlis, president of Emprise Inc.

No one will accuse Hansen or Zahlis of being shrinking violets when it comes to their opinions about safety management. Noting that almost 80 percent of safety professionals polled in a recent readers' survey indicated they're dissatisfied with their jobs, they pointed out: "What is buried in these statistics... is that safety professionals complain they aren't supported, aren't listened to, and haven't received their due respect from senior management. Yet, in the next breath, they openly acknowledge that they haven't expanded their knowledge base, explored new strategies, dug-in their heels of conviction, and are fearful of 'pushing back' in their organizations. They simply accept their plight and rationalize their boss's view of them as window dressing, or a necessary expense (for now), and then have the nerve to claim they're underpaid!"

Hansen, the creator/author of "The Architecture of Safety Excellence" and author of ROC Your Organization: Fifty-Two Ways to Instigate Radical Organizational Change for Safety Excellence, and Zahlis the creator of "Active Agenda," a Web-enabled automated risk management data technology, and author of The Hidden Agenda and CAUTION: Beware OSHA Statistics recommend those 80 percent of safety professionals who are dissatisfied with their jobs "identify those clients and/or internal customers that see value in your services, and concentrate your time and energy on them. Do so, even if your boss gets pissed... and do so even more if it gets you fired. Make your customers your boss, rather than the Accounting Department, corporate rules trolls or the corpse that signs your paycheck (it's likely a rubber stamp anyway)."

6) Don't make safety a "priority" Michael S. Deak, corporate director, Safety and Health, Compliance Process Safety and Fire Prevention, E. I. DuPont De Nemours & Co.

World-class safety performance and safety management requires leadership from the CEO and every other employee, says Deak, who celebrates his 40th anniversary at DuPont in May 2004.

"At DuPont, safety is a core business and organizational value. Don't talk about safety as a priority," Deak counsels. "Think back to Sept. 11, 2001. The priorities of most organizations changed. At DuPont, our business priorities changed, but because safety, health and environment is a core value, it didn't change. It's going to be there next year, it's there now, it was there last year."

Since priorities can change, organizations that include safety as a priority create a culture of people who hide out in foxholes, Deak believes. "They hide and think, 'This too shall pass.' They don't participate, because eventually, there will be a different set of priorities."

7) Management commitment and leadership and employee participation are key to safety management Neal M. Leonhard CIH, CSP, manager, Safety Systems, MeadWestvaco Corp.

"With the increasing emphasis on social responsibility, many Fortune 500 companies are focusing on improving their injury/illness prevention systems," says Leonhard, "Collectively, they are facing the same questions that have been asked since the industrial revolution. What makes a difference in safety, particularly in today's global environment? Management commitment and leadership can make a difference in achieving sustainable results in injury/illness prevention."

MeadWestvaco has communicated a policy to set clear expectations of the current management team regarding safe and healthful work practices and conditions in the business unit. Goals and objectives are established and aligned throughout the organization to drive improvements in safety performance. Leonhard says MeadWestvaco managers are as conversant with safety as they are with other business issues such as production and quality.

"Management leads consistently with a philosophy that all occupational injuries and illnesses are preventable. Management's commitment to safety excellence is demonstrated through visible leadership, such as regular participation in safety activities, and encouragement of employee participation in safety efforts," he adds.

At MeadWestvaco, management provides for and encourages "meaningful employee involvement in the accident prevention system," he notes. "Employees are given the opportunity and are encouraged to provide input into the design and operation of safety processes/programs and the decisions that affect their safety and health. Employee input is valued and used."

8) Take a rational, disciplined approach to safety Donald Eckenfelder

"Safety should not be an emotional subject any more than anything else in business. Take a rational, disciplined approach," suggests Eckenfelder. Many companies try to play on the emotional aspect of injuries, i.e., the impact an injury could have on the lives of employees and their families. "That might work for a while," he says, "but not for long and not consistently."

He suggests devoting energy to finding the root cause of anything that goes wrong in a disciplined way. And don't be misled by red herrings: "What's investigated is usually the symptoms of the problem when the real problem is the culture," he notes. "The root cause of the Columbia shuttle crash wasn't stuff flaking off the outside of the shuttle. The root cause was the safety culture at NASA."

9) Make everyone accountable for safety Michael S. Deak

"Line management has to be held personally responsible for safety. That means they can be held accountable," says Deak. "In successful businesses, leaders are graded not only on a financial scorecard, but on their ability to integrate safety into the business process. At DuPont, safety is a core value, and core values are integrated into the day-to-day operations of the business."

Employee engagement is key here, he adds. And by "employee," he means all employees: "Everybody from the CEO down is an employee. Every one of our 79,000 employees at DuPont is engaged in the safety management process. If you don't engage all employees, you don't have a prayer at becoming a world-class company, in safety or in business," Deak insists.

He says DuPont engages line employees in safety through frequent communication of core values, by including them in incident investigations and by facilitating their participation on audit teams, among other things.

In addition, line employees see management "walking the talk," he adds, and that probably has the most positive influence on their safety performance.

"Very seldom in my 40 years at DuPont have I seen people not do what they think the organization wants them to do. If they see a manager carrying two armloads of boxes up a flight of stairs without holding onto the handrail, it doesn't matter if we tell them 100 times to hold onto the handrail. But if they see the manager holding onto the handrail, that makes all the difference."

10) Get results or get fired Larry Hansen and Dan Zahlis

"Get results or get fired, because it's only results that count," say Hansen and Zahlis, "and it's only results that will ultimately free your soul, and enable you to discover the real opportunities to make a difference in this profession, in your life and in the lives of those entrusted to your care and responsibility!"

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