Multi-tasking has evolved from a talent to a necessity to maintain the pace of everyday productivity.
Whether an employee is talking on a cell phone while working, or not wearing his or her personal protective equipment, many workers have placed themselves and others at needless risk to save time or be more comfortable.
The bottom line is that the majority of accidents are not due to a lack of training, skill or knowledge — they are simply related to poor decision-making.
This article will take a comprehensive look at addressing this problem along with the culture of safety, and examines the philosophy, accountability and structure needed to develop a successful safety program.
First thoughts about safety
Think back to the person who taught you the first safety rule: Possibly, it was your mother warning you about a hot stove. (“Hot, don’t touch!”) Most people are likely to rebel when pushed into a decision until they truly understand the rationale and risk behind the decision. The “it could never happen to me” attitude sends many people to emergency rooms with serious injuries, sometimes life-threatening.
Sadly, carelessness in the workplace can tend to go hand in hand with pressures to produce and, in some cases, it is rewarded. Too often, it is easier for a manager to turn away and cross his or her fingers when observing a safety rule being violated than to slow down the process with enforcement and follow-through.
Time, effort, comfort and peer pressure are the foremost reasons employees commit unsafe acts when they know better but don’t do better. Many employees don’t like being required to attend safety training sessions or, in some cases, obey safety rules. Many companies establish safety as a “No. 1 priority,” but send mixed messages when something more important bumps safety to the back burner.
Employee safety must be a value and a lifestyle, with a 24/7 approach.
Accountability for actions
Poor management techniques and/or lack of company-sponsored training efforts are ultimately responsible for sustaining a culture that “permits” unsafe behavior. If there are no consequences for violating company safety rules, no enforcement of the safety program, and no way to point to any bottom-line accountability, major changes must be made and implemented in the existing programs.
There are three main components of an effective safety program:
1. Total, unwavering safety commitment from management.
2. Active implementation of a formal site-specific safety program led by mid-management.
3. Employee involvement through example and demonstration, not directives.
It’s not enough to make safety a “No. 1” priority. Safety must become an inherent company value because priorities nearly always change at some point. All individuals want to succeed, best echoed by the old saying, “What interests my boss, fascinates me.”
The term “accountability” typically tags along with a negative connotation of punitive or disciplinary action. In a compliance context, this word translates to everyone owning responsibility for individual safety.
How a company demonstrates its commitment
While conventional wisdom says that employees criticize their companies when they impose strong disciplinary actions in safety, the opposite is usually the case. Companies with a high regard for safety and health demonstrate a greater level of care and concern for employee well-being. When safety and health standards break down, serious injuries/illnesses or even fatalities can occur, leaving families shattered due to carelessness and irresponsibility.
What would happen if there were no highway patrolmen to monitor traffic on the roads? Obviously, that would be a recipe for disaster. The same principle holds true with safety measures. Lower costs and higher productivity correlate directly with companies that demonstrate a strong baseline safety program that includes front-line supervision and employee participation. Safety becomes part of the job and a condition of employment.
Companies need to have highly detailed safety procedures in place, ensure and account for employee training and awareness, and ultimately use a zero-tolerance policy for serious violations of the policy. Employers must create a system of accountability that includes:
- Thorough training
- Strong and effective safety and health policies
- Regular and frequent inspections and documentation
- Accountability to follow through with safety rules
To look at it another way, many companies terminate employees because of excessive tardiness or theft, while merely warning them for a serious breach of safety rules that could have caused death or serious physical harm.
Emphasizing what’s really important
Safety is about creating an environment where employees want to be safe because it’s the right thing to do.
Asked, “What are the top three most important things in life?”, employees commonly answer:
“If someone were to say that he or she would hurt a member of your family, what would you do?” Most people would do anything in their power to stop that from happening.
Safety values, whether at work or at home, have the power to protect or ruin your family, faith and health. If an unsafe action were to undermine any one of these values, would shaving off a few extra minutes by not putting on protective equipment or skipping steps through a safety procedure still seem as important in light of its possible consequence? Safety shouldn’t be a “have to,” it should be a “want to.”
Preparing an effective safety program
To establish a successful safety initiative here are my recommendations for senior leadership:
- Safety begins first with top management; and deliver the message with visual concepts, not just words.
- Create a program that is site-specific and makes sense to management and workers.
- Identify where safety and health issues exist and implement a program that corrects these issues and all similar issues.
- Fully understand the responsibility and requirement to follow safety and health rules.
And here are some recommendations to foster a culture of safety:
- Encourage employees’ involvement and feedback and act on their suggestions.
- Develop a safety committee with the authority to create and implement changes.
Select an employee from the workforce to function as a fulltime safety coordinator (without disciplinary authority) with the responsibility of making safety changes.
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