SAFETY PERSPECTIVES

Safety Leadership is a Continuous Process

Posted by  Craig White

safety-leaderA friend of mine who works for a large grocery store chain recently told me about the fallout from a safety incident that occurred in one of its Louisiana stores last year. An hourly-paid employee slipped on a spill while carrying product to a shelf and cracked his skull when he hit the floor, nearly dying from the injury. Thankfully the employee has made a full recovery, but all the local media attention about the incident prompted the company’s top management to implement a new safety program. You might think that this was a good move on the part of the organization to reduce the safety risks in their stores, but what my friend had to say made me think otherwise.

He has been with the company for 5 years now and told me that until this incident, the only exposure he had to any formal safety policies and training took place during orientation when he was hired. Apparently each store’s management team were left to handle safety issues on their own. Following the incident, the organization rolled out a new safety program supposedly geared toward adjusting employee behaviors to be more cautious and aware of surroundings at work (I did not have access to any materials for this program and am only reporting what was told to me). However, he noted that since the new program was implemented last year, he has not heard another word about it. It seems to me that this company was not truly seeking to improve employee safety or reduce job hazards at all, rather just putting a band-aid on the problem as damage control to present a public image of prioritizing safety.

This case is a prime example of poor safety leadership. Effective safety management is not simply putting safety policies in place, it is an ongoing effort to reach the ultimate goal of no harm. OSHA provides a thorough list of these actions:

  • Establishing a safety and health policy
  • Establishing goals and objectives
  • Providing visible top management leadership and involvement
  • Ensuring employee involvement
  • Ensuring assignment of responsibility
  • Providing adequate authority and responsibility
  • Ensuring accountability for management, supervisors, and rank & file employees
  • Providing a program evaluation

If you’ve read our past posts in the Safety Perspectives blog you’ll notice how each of these fit into one or more of the factors in the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA, but I want to focus here on goals and program evaluation.

A safety program will not be successful unless it is maintained. As safety leaders, we cannot expect employees to adhere to policy changes if we don’t lead by example and hold everyone accountable, so the best way to achieve this is to set safety goals. It is critical to establish sub-goals that will help you achieve your primary goal of creating a culture of safety and significantly reducing injury rates in your organizations. This includes developing unique safety goals for each employee, based on their particular SafetyDNA blind spots and job hazards, such as designing a safety checklist to go over before/after a shift or disallowing coworkers into one’s area unless wearing their appropriate PPE. A safety goal can be just about anything related to the risks of each employee’s job, as long as reaching the goal improves safety. Doing so will target the greatest safety risks in your workspace and elicit employee buy-in to your program by making them feel more involved in the process. I should also note that managers should absolutely set safety goals for themselves and focus theirs on bigger picture issues and effective safety leadership.

Right now you might be thinking that setting a goal does not guarantee behavioral change, and you’re right. Many employees will want to revert back to their old habits after taking a safety meeting with their supervisors. Thus, the second key component of goal-setting is following up with employees to review their goal progress. This not only demonstrates to employees that you are committed to the safety program, but also engenders a sense of accountability and motivation in employees to behave more safely. Having everyone on board to meet their goals will strengthen your organization’s safety culture and help reduce incident rates. Then, as you begin to see these changes come to fruition (or not), make sure to evaluate the success of the safety program to identify things that didn’t work and any areas for growth, as well as new steps you can take to make the already improved areas even better.

The bottom line here is that we as safety leaders should never be satisfied with our safety programs, and continually seek out ways to better safety performance.

Does Leadership Affect Safety Incidents? You Bet it Does!

Tags:   safe behavior, safety leadership, SafetyDNA

Craig White

Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX. He is also a Contract Safety Services Consultant for Select International.

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