In my two most recent posts, I explained that I have seen safety performance improve when management puts in place a series of obligations – and then does everything they can to support them. I explained the first two obligations, which are:
Refuse to do work that you cannot perform safely.
If you see someone performing work in an unsafe manner, or in a manner that could lead to injury, you are obligated to speak up and stop them.
Both of these require an environment of trust and respect, and a great deal of patience on the part of managers and team leaders. If implemented in an environment that has not historically supported stopping work to look at the safety of an action, then you need to recognize the need to think differently. You need to be willing to praise and acknowledge those that are trying to bring a higher level of safety to their work.
The power of the process lies in obligation #3.
If someone asks you to stop doing something that they consider unsafe, you are obligated to stop, discuss and issue with them, and agree to a safe approach before continuing.
Would this bring your operation to a grinding halt? If so, you likely have too many safety issues on your hands and you need a major overhaul of your safety program. But if you have been chugging along at some “acceptable” level of injury and can’t seem to make progress to a level of zero incidents, I suggest you consider how you could implement something similar in your workplace.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Do you have a safety committee that meets on a regular basis? Bring the idea to them and see what they think would be the probability of acceptance. Maybe just reinforcing the idea of the first obligation is the place to start, and you could work on an observation program in the future that would allow you to consider the next two.
- Can your management or leadership team buy in to this? Do they trust the workforce enough to know that people will use this the right way? You may need to start with that team first, and make sure they could support the implications. You aren’t selling a new safety system here, you are trying to raise the level of safety performance. You will never get to zero injuries without a process that fully engages employees. And you don’t buy that off the shelf, you implement with every day and every interaction.
- Do you have PC or email access for employees? Consider setting up an anonymous way of submitting concerns or ideas. In one place I worked, we had a simple database set up with forms where people could submit ideas from kiosks that required no sign-in. They could choose to add their name or not, and we continually acknowledged those that submitted suggestions.
- Are you concerned about how your union would accept a process where employees are expected to “confront” one another? Ask the union leadership to help you problem solve how this could work in your environment. First, help them see how this could lead to better levels of safety. Consider what discipline would look like for someone who chooses not to stop when confronted. If an employee is violating accepted procedures, then management should already be noticing that and dealing with it. Obligation #2 is designed to identify new areas to improve, not to tattle on those who are breaking existing rules.
As far as I can see, there is no reason to avoid employee involvement in improving safety. I see it as the only way to get to world class performance. You don’t need these three obligations to get there, but you need something.
If not this, what are you doing to get to that next level? Remember, hope is not a strategy. Results require action.
Thanks, and lets be careful out there.
My thanks to Trish McFarlane, who’s recent post on preparedness prompted my thinking about how we all can find safer ways to do things. Though not directly related, these ideas can help move past mere compliance and into an environment and culture where safety is first and foremost in reality, not just in our employee handbooks.