The other day I took up the challenge from Trish to help managers consider what they can do to assure that we are not just compliant with safety issues, but also prepared and actively managing safety.
What I have seen work is embodied in three obligations that belong to each and every employee. The first one was very simply:
Refuse to do work that you cannot perform safely.
The second obligation puts our power of observation to work. Like the first obligation, it involves a high level of trust and respect. Obligation #2 is:
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.
Sounds simple, right? But imagine you are a new employee, being trained by a 15 year veteran and he is demonstrating a method you can see is risky. Let’s say he’s using a cutting tool without using the protective equipment provided and required. If you’re brave you might point that out and hope that he just forgot. But you might also be concerned that he is going to explain it away . “I’ve been doing it like this for 15 years, do you really think you can tell me how to do my job?”
If we truly care about the safety of our workplace, we learn not to care about someone’s pride in successfully avoiding injury even though they are taking unnecessary risk. We learn to value that doing something in the safest possible way is the best approach to assuring our safety and the safety of those around us.
To implement this obligation, you might start with de-personalizing it. Promote the observation required by having people identify unsafe conditions or housekeeping problems. Something that doesn’t start with a “You’re doing it wrong” kind of approach, but gets people comfortable with identifying hazards. The hard part is in implementing a system for people to report these kind of things that includes putting resolution of the problem in their court. It could be as simple as having them send an email to a safety@yourcorp mailbox that is reviewed everyday. Or a simple database form that gives an individual an opportunity to document what they saw, report what they did about it, and suggest how it could be avoided in the future.
So if an employee notices a small puddle of oil or fluid, they can go to a form to report it, state that they cleaned it up, and suggest that the shop take a look at all the lift vehicles to see if there are leaks that can be repaired. Then, and this requires discipline, the employee is acknowledged for identifying the problem, for taking care of the immediate threat, and the appropriate assignment to follow up on a solution is made.
As employees get more observant, and get recognized for that behavior, they start to see that they can impact safety before an incident and start to challenge one another in their actions.
Now, you might be wondering if employees are really willing to challenge each other, or if they are required or expected to report observations on other team members as well. Will they be willing to name a co-worker who is doing something in an unsafe manner?
In my next and final post on this topic, I’ll explain why Obligation #3 helps tidy that up.