The primary reason businesses have a safety program is to prevent work-related fatalities, injuries, and illnesses, or to stay out of the cross hairs of regulatory agencies. But, to have an effective safety program, “What does that mean?” and “How do we actually accomplish that?” Based upon my twenty plus years of experience and working with multiple companies as a Manager, Director, and Consultant, this is what it takes:
Effective safety programs feature:
- Commitment and support from senior leadership – This starts from the very top of the organization (President or CEO) and is driven down into your mid-level management (e.g., managers, supervisors, superintendents, foreman, etc.). This is listed as the first bullet, because without it, your program will likely fail. It is essential!
- Employee empowerment at all levels – Every employee must have a voice and the authority to step in and stop unsafe behavior or correct unsafe conditions without fear of repercussions. If everyone looks out for themselves and each other, rather than relying on the 1 or 2 safety people in the organization to make things happen, you can literally have hundreds or even thousands of safety advocates within a company.
- Clear expectations and responsibilities – My old co-worker often said the only expectation that can be met is the one that is clearly explained. If a foreman is to do four toolbox talks each month, they must know that expectation and have the knowledge, training, time, and resources to be able to successfully complete that responsibility.
- Commitment to leading by example – Your actions speak so loudly, that it makes it hard to hear what you are saying. If you are in charge, you will be an example. Ask yourself or others, “what kind of example am I?”
- Promoting accountability – People will perform to the level of their expectation. Explain why they must do what you are asking, check in with them, recognize them, challenge them, seek input, and ask what they need to be safe or successful.
- Providing necessary resources – Safety costs money and takes time. For a successful safety program, people must have the proper tools or equipment, the knowledge (do they have what it takes and know how to do it safely?), and an effective delivery system. There are many delivery systems out there. You just need to determine what works best at your organization.
- Focusing on hazard identification and control – This should be based on actual loss history and significant exposures. Ask what has happened and what is most likely to happen.
- Continuous improvement – You are never done. Things can always be improved. Continually assess what has worked and what needs to improve.
Typically, safety programs are very reactive. A proactive approach is more effective. Some methods to help achieve this include:
- Learn from the Past – Track incidents and attempt to identify trends.
- Don’t Ignore Near Misses – A near miss probably means you just got lucky. Treat EVERY near miss just as you would an incident.
- Honest Communication – Be open with where things are, what is working, what isn’t. Most people will respect this and be more open with you.
- Involve the Entire Team – Obtaining input from all levels will help them feel valued and help you develop more effective solutions.
- Close the Loop – Confirm that corrective action was completed and effective.
Effective safety programs provide many other benefits, such as:
- Lower insurance costs
- Reduction in missed work time
- Increased efficiency
- Overall quality improvements
- Improved morale
- Everyone goes home to be with those that they care about and do the things they enjoy!
After a little more than three months as Safety Director, I am still very excited to be here working with our employees. Every day I look forward to going to work and I am impressed with the quality of people working here. There are many of the things mentioned in this article that are currently happening, and lots to do yet to improve. I am looking forward to seeing where this path leads.