Over the past few decades, organizational safety programs have migrated towards a behavior-based structure. While the goal of these programs is geared towards a safer environment for employees evidenced by lower incident rates and reduced severity, the success of these programs is contingent on a consistent core commitment. The most successful organizational safety programs recognize that safety must be an integral philosophy. Effective safe behaviors are not an afterthought to be penciled in but a common thread that runs from one motion to the next. While there are many elements of a safety system which are industry specific, these only fine tune the effectiveness. The foundational principles are universal and simply stated but require persistent attention.
If you were to ask numerous departmental managers what could be improved upon, communication is consistently a top response. Communicating is not simply reciprocating facts. The act of speaking and listening must be made with purpose. The information given must be purposeful, clear, and relevant to both the intended audience, the situation at hand, and the one sharing the information. The information must be measured. Sharing safety stats, goals in terms of percentages, and the previous quarters loss time offers information, but presents no actionable goals. Consider your audience. During a weekly safety meeting, think of the message you’re attempting to convey and how to gain the most momentum. Highlighting recent “catches” of dropped objects, opportunities of improvement related to walking surfaces, and hazards related to working at heights will keep the needed attention of employees rather than first quarter incident severity statistics. When the common “it’s not about the numbers” platitude is repeated in the same thought space as safety statistics, the message of true care and concern is quelled.
The first exposure an employee has to their operation is their supervisor. The specific influence a supervisor has on their team sets the tone on productivity, safe operations, future goals, and the performance of adjacent teams. The development of authentic leaders begins with authentic supervisors. Supervisors who are both confident and teachable present an example to front-line employees on the importance of resilience, optimism, and transparency, all of which contribute to a greater business purpose. Authentic leaders develop clear expectations of themselves, of their teams and communicate the expectations of their own supervisors.
The improvement process continues with front line employee participation. The ownership is not free from management involvement. Expectations must be communicated as to how said ownership is to look. What type of participation and to what level of accountability? How would concerns be identified and at what intervals? Each participation program will be as unique as the industry, the operations, and the practitioners. However as the program develops, the clear expectations of ownership must be at the foundation.
These practices are in no way linear or mutually exclusive of one another but work best when viewed as a cycle. So much so, that this cyclic system cleanly overlays another critical continual improvement cycle, the Plan-Do-Check-Act system. Both processes capitalize on individual strengths collectively discussed, integrated, assigned, and practiced. Technical expertise can only be part of the equation. A greater understanding of leadership, character, and future purpose carries teams to success and in turn safety. Restated, safety is not something you do, it reflects the character you possess.