Companies always have strived to produce more with fewer resources. These resources can refer to time, energy, effort, cost or even manpower. Most workers have, at one time or another, felt the impact of changes made to improve productivity, usually by being asked to do more with less. But what is productivity and how does it relate to safety and health professionals?
Productivity refers to the measure of output, such as widgets, from a production process per unit of input, such as labor and costs. This can be relatively straightforward when comparing the ratio of output to inputs, such as widgets produced per hour of work. With the cost of the labor hours, productivity also can measure the efficiency of a company. These measures are typically quantitative and relatively easy to measure. However, other factors of productivity, such as innovation, teamwork and even safety, are qualitative and more difficult to measure using the same measuring process.
Which leads to the question: What do safety professionals ‘produce’? Unfortunately in safety, there is no shortage of busy work: conducting inspections, providing training and orientations, investigating incidents and injuries, and the dreaded spreadsheet grind to generate reports. While busy, it certainly produces streams of paperwork, but is this the most productive use of a safety professional’s time? If not, what is? Here are some recommendations to improve productivity for a safety professional:
A busy safety professional can only be in one place at one time. Therefore, it is unwise to believe that safety ownership and activities should all be done by one person or department. Safety is a management responsibility and ownership should rest on the shoulders of those who manage and produce the work. Safety should be a resource to assist in this process, providing feedback, guidance, coaching and expertise. As more and more producers become engaged in the safety process, the safety professional can then endeavor to improve knowledge and efforts exponentially within the organization rather than hope for additional safety resources to come along to hopefully ease the burden.
Collaboration is the key. This can include employee engagement in safety efforts such as conducting worksite safety observations, conducting safety training, serving on the safety committee, and participating in learning teams. For management, this can include developing safety activities such as coaching observers, conducting worksite safety observations and development of action plans for addressing improvement opportunities for safety.
A great deal of time is spent processing safety data as well as effort to convert that data into tangible reports for end users such as clients, managers or the workforce. Oftentimes paper reports are generated and the safety professional is tasked with data entry as well as report generation. Generally, the only tool available to do this processing to analyze and report is an Excel spreadsheet. It is the 21st Century, so embrace the technological wonders that are currently available. Ask yourself a few questions to know if it is time to employ technology:
- Can you obtain real-time reporting from the data collected?
- Does your data collection process automatically feed into a reporting tool?
- Can reporting of information provide the ability to roll up all data within an entire global organization?
- Can you trend the information collected such as by region, area and observer?
- Can you benchmark and compare your safety data, including leading indicators, with other companies?
- Can you track leadership’s engagement in the safety process?
- Can you turn observation data into actionable information?
- Can the data you collect help you predict where your next injury will occur?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then the time may be right to explore a change in how you are doing things. Should safety efforts rely on building a perfect plan and expect everyone to follow it unfailingly or should the safety effort rely on identifying barriers to adoption of the plan and proactive implementation of a solution? If the latter is your choice, then technology can be a marvelous aid in identifying opportunities for improvement as well as driving and measuring continuous improvement. That is, unless you enjoy living in the Stone Age.
Production for a safety professional should focus on the tenets of teamwork, development, coaching and innovation. The old adage of ‘work smarter, not harder’ certainly applies to this approach. Too often safety programs have elements that are done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or worse, ‘”because we have to.” Taking on more safety responsibility and activity is damaging to the rightful owners of safety for the process and harmful for development of the safety professional. Expanding to include these productivity tips will make your safety program that much better and ultimately help to ensure that the entire workforce goes home safely at the end of the day.
Cary Usrey is a process improvement leader at Predictive Solutions. He is responsible for implementing solutions and best practices for customers seeking to prevent worker injuries using an integrated safety management system that focuses on leading safety indicators. He has served for six years on the board of directors for the VPPPA (Region II)—two years as a director-at-large and four years as the vice chairperson.