Sarasota FL (WorkersCompenstion.com) – Would your organization shut down an operation or work process during peak production time if there was a safety problem? And how do employees perceive the company’s response? The answers speak volumes about an organization’s culture of safety.
While most companies have the best intentions of keeping workers safe, they too often fall short due to concerns about business goals, production and quality. And despite efforts to promote workplace safety, such as weekly safety meetings, workers may perceive things differently than management intends.
“On the high performing safety culture companies we do get 100 percent” of employees who say their leaders would shut down an operation if there was a safety condition, said Joseph Wheatley, VP at EnPro Learning Systems. “They say ‘there is no unclarity in my mind. I know my supervisor, my leadership would absolutely shut down.’”
But even in the most safety-conscious of organizations, there is rarely 100 percent agreement among employees that safety needs would take precedence over other business concerns. That attitude can also prevent well-intentioned employees from fully engaging in safety efforts.
“I’ve found in my experience that some employees want to be a safety champion and want to be a safety leader but they don’t feel empowered or think, more importantly, that they have the authority to be a safety leader,” said Maryann Hoff senior Risk Control Manager for Safety National.
Wheatley and Hoff participated on a panel webinar discussion produced by Safety National.
Empowering and Engaging Employees
Increasing employee engagement and getting supervisors and leaders on board are the biggest challenges to driving safe behaviors, according to surveys. Employees are more likely to be engaged in safety efforts when they are part of safety action teams. Rather than safety committees, a safety action team is focused on a specific task or issue.
“It’s meant to be proactive, positive, and getting things accomplished, versus a repository to what the problems are,” Wheatley said. “A fork lift team, for example … the key is for the employees to have a voice, which is engagement.”
A true safety culture must be a core value and intrinsic to business operations and goals. It requires the commitment of employees at all levels of the organization. That means all workers must take ownership when it comes to safety.
“From an employee perspective it would look like they have real authority to create better safety, that they have a voice in saying, ‘my work area should look like this,’” Wheatley said.
That requires all employees – and supervisors – being willing to take responsibility, rather than pointing fingers.
“Let’s say someone has a laceration on their hand, and the supervisor might say, ‘well, that person wasn’t wearing safety gloves,’” Wheatley said. Instead, the supervisor can take responsibility and say, ‘I’ve walked past that person and have seen the employee not wearing gloves before [and did not say anything.] So I have responsibility there.”
All injuries are preventable, the speakers said. The idea of an ‘injury-free’ workplace may seem impossible, but it is not.
“When you break down an incident that has occurred there are elements that are preventable,” Hoff said. “When we start to prevent those elements, those dominoes from falling, it can impact the rest of the chain of events from occurring … when you dig into the root cause analysis [of an injury] there are opportunities there, looking at what actions could have been taken during the sequence of events that would have steered it differently, those are lessons learned.”
For supervisors to truly help create a safety culture at an organization requires being at least a champion for safety, one of the four basic buckets or categories of safety leadership:
Compliance. This person complies with safety requirements because he has to. He complies because someone tells him to.
Supporter. This employee understands why safety is important and believes in the importance of spending time and resources on safety. He’s in between priority and tolerance.
Champion. This person is an advocate who actively leads, participates and models the way in safety activities because of his strong safety ethic.
Visionary. This person actively seeks and learns more about safety methods and thinking. He is internally driven to innovate and provide greater service to others.