There are many aspects to achieving safety success, but perhaps the most important is prioritizing safety leadership from the top all the way through the organization. Managing and leading safety should receive as much attention as production, scheduling, operations and all other aspects of a well-run company.
Some of the key responsibilities of leaders (from the CEO to the front-line supervisor) include the following:
You simply have to walk the talk. Everyone on site looks to leaders to see if they have “bought into” the culture and the safety process in place. Specific behaviors and actions set the tone. Personally observe all the safety rules in place, not taking shortcuts or ignoring any policies. Wear personal protective equipment whenever/wherever it is required. Make safety a part of the everyday agenda; taking time each day to talk about safety in a positive way, sharing a story, asking people about their concerns or for input to improve safety are just a few ways. It takes a lot of creativity and commitment to make safety part of the daily routine. Sticking to that shows how seriously you take your responsibilities.
Knowing the hazards encountered in routine operations is pretty easy; identifying or forecasting hazards in upset conditions or unusual circumstances can be a bit more difficult. Hazard identification is a rigorous process that calls for inspections and audits. Discussing hazards with crews and getting their perceptions and input, using experts in the field (safety professionals, loss-control consultants from the insurance company, industry and trade publications, OSHA data) can shed light on hazards that you may not have personally experienced but others have. Other methods for hazard identification include checklists, findings from incident investigations, loss-control data and networking. Hazards should be catalogued in a Risk Register which outlines the hazard, the likelihood or probability of occurrence, the anticipated (or worst-possible) outcome and the hazard control methods used to mitigate or reduce the hazard exposure.
The first step in developing an atmosphere of open and frank discussion begins with knowing your employees. Knowing their strengths, their contributions, their areas for improvement and their motivations is a good first step. Give positive feedback for good performance. Everyone knows that the way to excellence is through positive feedback, as opposed to discipline, yet positive feedback is greatly underused. Encourage open discussion and reporting hazards and near misses without repercussions or penalties. And if discipline is warranted (e.g. for a deliberate safety violation), the discipline should be fair, consistent and evenly applied. Discipline or consequences for deliberate unsafe actions should be for the behavior, not the consequence. For instance if a worker is injured from not wearing fall protection but the worker has not been regularly using fall protection, this is a system issue, not a worker issue.
In addition to OSHA- and company-mandated training, employees and supervisors should receive training for better performance, effective communication skills and outlining expectations for participation in the safety process. Training and informal discussions should include: what safety hazards and risks are at each part of the operation, along with control methods in place; what level of participation in meetings, inspections and other elements of the safety process is expected of each employee; what levels of safety performance are expected (e.g. when to ask for help, avoiding shortcuts, following safety rules, wearing PPE); how to report near misses, safety or quality concerns and hazards; coaching everyone how to discuss safety, talking to co-workers about safety (e.g. “brother’s keeper”); and off-the-job safety elements.
In Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” he talks about the seventh habit being “sharpen the saw.” The concept of constant growth and seeking improvement is one of the most important aspects of your safety process. Leading and lagging metrics, audit findings, management team meeting minutes, input from employees and many other sources can be used to reshape and refocus your safety efforts. One of the most common barriers or challenges voiced from employees (and their supervisors) is the struggle to “keep things fresh” and, of course, fighting complacency. Every data point, every story, every anecdote can be a catalyst to improving and refining an individual leader’s approach to safety and strengthening and enhancing the overall safety system. Just like people and organizations, the safety process is always a moving target and should receive regular review and tweaking to make sure it is fresh, current, relevant and, most of all, effective.
Without a doubt, there are many other valuable aspects of safety leadership to consider, but using these five key points as a frame of reference from which to build a solid foundation of commitment, trust and open communication can help to build a positive and successful climate in your organization.
The Engagement Effect offers solutions in organizational results, safety and health, leadership, talent management and culture change. Learn more at www.theengagementeffect.com or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org