Every company says safety is integral part of operations. But a lot of management teams behave as if safety is a necessary evil—or worse, an afterthought.
After visiting dozens of worksites throughout the United States, Canada and the Middle East, I began to notice some trends that indicate how company leadership actually feels about safety. Now, when I visit a new site I know which telltale signs to look for that indicate whether a company is likely to have a successful and sustainable safety program.
It doesn’t take me long to determine if the site was somewhere I would want my family members to work. Here are 12 trademark signs that demonstrate that management thinks safety is a priority.
- All leaders should know the regulatory/ compliance requirements for the site. They should also be aware of how these requirements affect their safety management system and understand the approach the safety team is taking to address compliance issues.
- Management should also have detailed knowledge of ongoing safety initiatives and understand what the initiatives are meant to accomplish. They could even be involved in making the decision regarding what initiatives will be implemented.
- Each leader should have a tangible goal in how they are personally going to support the initiative and how their employees will support the initiative. It’s a major warning sign if a manager can’t point to something they’re doing to directly support a safety initiative.
- Morning meetings should include a safety brief, even at the leadership level. At the end of the day, a close-out meeting regarding safety should be conducted and any issues should be discussed with a plan to resolve them.
- The company’s top managers should be striving to create an environment that encourages employee participation.
- Adequate resources need to be committed to safety. This is both time and money. Good leaders should ensure employees actually have the time available in their schedule to participate in things such as workplace audits, training and safety teams. The need to properly fund safety initiative should be self-evident—and if a company’s financial decision-makers don’t see it that way then there’s little chance for long-term safety success.
- When injuries occur there should be a platform to share learnings in a positive environment, even when those injuries occur off the job.
- There should be at least one system that focuses on human behavior. This allows the workforce to adopt a more proactive approach to preventing injuries 24/7. Companies regularly discover that most of their incidents are the result of behavior and addressing it will drastically reduce injuries. (In one case, an international manufacturer reduced injuries in its Latin American operations by 93% after introducing stronger behavioral safety skills to its workforce.)
- Safety programs and initiatives should regularly be evaluated to determine how effective they are. If a program no longer adds value or ceases to resonate with employees then it should be modified or eliminated. However, many management teams find it easier to keep adding more programs/initiatives on top of what is already in place rather than eliminating dysfunctional or ineffective programs and making room for new ones.
- New safety initiatives should be given ample time to prove their effectiveness. Prematurely judging the effectiveness of a new program is just as dangerous as failing to take action on an out-of-date initiative. Switching from one safety program to the next too frequently can lead to the perception that management is constantly chasing the flavor of the month.
- Clear communication is needed at all times. People often assume that what is discussed is important and employees often assume that if management can’t take the time to regularly communicate about safety then it must not be a priority.
- Leadership takes a “Do as I do” approach to safety. Managers show up on time for safety training, they participate in initiatives and they follow the same rules as employees.
Whenever senior executives ask me what they can do to improve safety performance, I tell them they need to focus on:
- factors that are within their control
- elements that are most commonly found in successful safety programs.
Then I give them this list. They don’t always follow it, but when they do they see drastic improvements in injury rates and safety culture.
Rhonda Piggee is a certified safety professional and holds a master’s degree in Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Management. She has worked in multiple industries, including the military, and in 2014 Rhonda was a National Safety Council “Rising Star of Safety” Award recipient.