Last week, my friend Trisha McFarlane wrote about her recent tornado experience, and how it applied to the workplace. One of the things I saw was a difference between compliance and preparedness. Trish was prepared. She knew where things were, she calmly instructed her children, and followed the plan.
In a safety audit, she would be asked if she had a plan, and she would say yes. She could show a document that would list the right details and actions. She would be in compliance.
Part of why she was prepared was her experience. She knew the threat was real. She knew that the time to act was now. She quickly executed her plan.
In safety, management frequently develops policies and procedures. Many are required through regulatory agencies like OSHA, and some are created out of necessity or past experience. Sometimes we shut the barn door after the horses are gone, but at least no more horses get out.
It’s time for a new level of policy. A policy of preparedness. A policy where we demonstrate our value for safety every day.
Where I work, we call it an obligation. An obligation is something that everyone is accountable for, and we have three of them.
The first obligation is simple, but it requires that management demonstrate discipline, openness and trust.
I am obligated to refuse to do something that I can’t do safely.
My craziest boss would demonstrate this obligation for new employees in a way that stuck with them. He told them the whole plant was engineered for safety. That even the desk drawers were designed so that you couldn’t get your hand caught in them. He would ask a new employee to come up to the desk, he opened a drawer and told the new employee “Go ahead and put your hand in there. I’ll slam this shut and you will see how it works.”
Some of them did it, others said “No, I can’t be sure of my safety.”
And that was his first point. Employees have to learn to trust their own sense of what is safe or not, and not assume they are protected.
And management has to encourage the challenge. Not just tolerate it, but encourage it.
How do you implement an obligation like this? Well, you start by asking employees if there is anything they do that raises concern over their safety. Do they feel under-trained or inadequately protected? They may not volunteer the information without being asked, you have to give them reason to trust you. So that’s step 1. Ask your employees if they feel at risk in their day to day actions, and help them resolve that problem. That’s the first step toward going beyond compliance for a safer work place, and engaging your employees in making their workplace safer every day.
I’ll cover the other two obligations later this week.