The most efficient people managing safety and well-being in industry know that a safety plan is much more than posting rules and training personnel to follow them. Although terms similar to “leadership ability” and “people skills” are overused to the point of sounding meaningless (especially on resumes !), achievements or failure in business often hinges on dealing with human personas effectively. This certainly applies to safety and health issues. The following is offered as an intro to 10 good habits that can make you more effective.
1. Praise employees when they opt for safe behaviors. These are the actions you should encourage. You have to be specific as to the good behavior that you are praising, and sincere and timely in your praise. Undoubtedly, fair and equitable enforcement of company rules should not be overlooked or discontinued, for lots of sound reasons. However, researches indicate that positive reinforcement of very good behaviors is often more efficient than punishment of bad behaviors in directing the future behavior patterns of employees.
The trick is to motivate enough safe acts whenever you observe them, so that once it is appropriate to discipline an employee for a safety violation, it will not override the positive benefits of praising the safe acts. This motivation effort is a basic part of the behavior modification which can help employees see safety as a core value.
2. Solicit participation from employees. Pay attention when people offer suggestions, concerns or complaints. Their suggestions might be better than your ideas, so provide them with a chance. Don”t immediately write off their feedback just because they come from ordinary employees, even if they are not soundly based on current safety business practice.
Pay particular attention to employee complaints and respond quickly and properly to all of them. Most people get discouraged when they feel someone isn”t paying attention to them. You may find that they will keep looking until they find somebody who wants to listen to them, such as someone from OSHA. Time spent building listening skills will be well worth the investment.
Although at times employees are wrong about something that concerns them, when they are ready to express a concern or complaint, have the ability to listen. Later, after you”ve had a chance to examine the issue, you can talk to the employee and explain why no movement needs to be taken.
3. Reward employee participation. Production employees will often feel pretty proud of their efforts to contribute to resolving safety and health concerns, either on the work floor or in safety meetings. It”s usually not part of their job description or area of expertise, but they feel they are helping their fellow workers, perhaps possibly saving someone from impairment or death, when they participate in safety and health matters. If these employees feel that this participation is unnoticed or unappreciated by management, their enthusiasm develops into cynicism. Make sure that you motivate them by recognizing their value to employee safety and health and by letting these people know you appreciate their help.
4. Be a shining example. People learn more by watching management than they would ever care to admit. Always follow every guideline and procedure religiously, if you want others to achieve this. You can bet that your own behaviors and actions are now being observed much of the time, whether you notice it or not, so don”t excuse yourself from complying with rules, such as wearing hearing protection, even if you agree to know you won”t be in a department long enough to exceed the TWA for noise. You should keep a supply of earplugs, regular and visitors” safety glasses, and any other own protective equipment which is required in the facility for yourself and any visitors that might accompany you into the plant.
5. Invest in people. It could be something apparently minor, such as lending a home safety video tutorial to an employee to take home, or bringing in jugs of “sports drinks” for personnel working on a particularly hot day. Your investment will develop your reputation among the employees far more efficiently and positively than anything else you can do.
A resourceful safety director reacted to a worker complaint about a harness sticking to perspiring shoulders on a hot day. First, he discussed several feasible solutions. Then, he made an investment in the employee by personally sewing terry cloth covers that wrapped around the shoulder straps and attached with “hook and loop” fasteners. The employee could barely believe that a member of management had taken such a personal interest in an employee”s comfort. The thankfulness of the employee was worth every minute put in at the sewing machine.
6. Constantly improve and simplify plant safety. Get rid of hazards where possible, instead of protect employees from them. Although your more skillful people may not have any problems with a given condition, new employees tend to have more accidents. Removing hazards makes it easier for new people to stay safe. This might seem obvious, but it is not routinely exercised in every company.
For example, a company bought a corrosive liquid for use in a process. It was bought and stored in a core location, transferred to smaller containers and distributed as needed to various subsidiary plants, where it was diluted substantially and neutralized.
The safety supervisor knew that the required goggles, aprons, gloves, etc. were not always used at all locations. Furthermore, he had to try to be sure that OSHA-required MSDS and PPE training were always up to date for these subsidiaries. Although no accidents had occurred to the senior people who handled the liquid, the safety director worried that a new and rookie employee might eventually be asked to do this job and be injured.
Rather than simply attempt to protect the employees who were handling the corrosive material at the subsidiaries, the safety director decided to dilute and neutralize the liquid to a safe pH at the central location. Thus, no safety glasses, face shields, gloves or aprons were necessary except at the central location. Now, a project is underway to buy the material with the neutralizer already added, to eradicate the hazard completely.
7. Visit plant areas on a regular basis. Surprisingly, some safety supervisors walk through production areas just once a week or less. This could inhibit communication and collaboration by reminding employees of the management status of the safety manager. Make a walkthrough of at least one plant area per day to let workers see that you are there for them, and enable them to offer their comments and suggestions to you. Most production workers would rather talk in person than call you by phone, so being there establishes a line of communication. This simple habit could actually give you opportunities to catch problems before they become too serious.
8. Maintain openness. Make sure to tell employees as much as you can in regards to what you are doing when you monitor, test alarms, bring visitors through, modify safety equipment or procedures, etc. The production area is like a home to production workers, and they often have great interest in what happens in it. Give them as much factual information as you can if you are conducting safety and health business in their work areas.
Real-life examples of a lack of openness show how expensive it is to hide facts, even unintentionally. In an auto assembly plant, a worker noticed an unusual smell near the end of the assembly line and complained to a union safety representative. The complaint went to administration, who sent an industrial hygienist out to take pull-tube samples. The hygienist discovered that the brand of gasoline going into the vehicles had been changed and so had the slight odor generated when filling up the cars. The air was fine.
Finding no real problem, the hygienist went back to her office without stating anything to anyone on the line. Seeing somebody taking samples agitated the employees, who eventually called the local OSHA office and filed a complaint. They were sure that management was covering some kind of dangerous chemical leak from them and had kept them working in possibly harmful conditions. The reasons for their fears ? The hygienist didn”t let them in on the sampling results and the employees” imagination filled in the resulting blanks. At the end of the day, over 100 employees had gone to the clinic with a cluster of imagined “symptoms.”
In another case, employees assumed that visitors from an insurance carrier were OSHA inspectors. When the guests came and went without a word to the employees, they decided “OSHA” had been “paid off.” As not likely as it is that somebody from OSHA could be paid off, the employees hung onto the rumor for many years.
9. Learn the names of as many production workers as possible. Almost everybody likes being recognized by name. It helps bring down communication barriers. This results in benefits to your safety program. I”ve seen that the best safety specialists in industry can walk through a plant and personally greet everybody on the floor by name. Although some of us are not good with names, you do get credit for trying.
Eat a noon-time meal regularly with the production workers. In a single workplace, an invisible class barrier had always existed between “management” and production people. Production employees were not included in day to day running of the firm, primarily due to the owner, who wanted to be involved in the whole thing and delegated no authority. The safety committee included only management personnel who answered directly to the owner.
While unable to convince the manager of the company to stop micromanaging, the safety director started to bring his lunch so he could eat with the plant employees on a regular basis. Each lunchtime session was an informal safety mini-meeting and most were substantially more productive than the “official” safety conferences.
10. Try to learn something else AT LEAST ONCE PER day. Safety and health care professionals who have professional certifications must acquire maintaining education units to maintain their certifications. There is certainly a good reason for this requirement. It will help keep these professionals current about safety and also health issues. You can perform the same thing, often at little cost.
For instance, read an article in a safety and health book, whether you think the topic relates to you or not. No cost seminars from your workers” compensation carrier may be available. Call an OSHA office and ask questions ( make sure you have a genuine OSHA inspector on the line first ). Conference and networking with peers is also constructive.
Develop your resources. An efficient safety person would do well to have contacts within the ranks of production workers and management, at other companies, at the nearest OSHA office, at the workers” compensation carrier”s loss control department, at trade organizations and at safety equipment supply houses.