Not Everything is a SAFETY Problem
Attitude, Basics, and Culture are among the building blocks of sound safety programs.
IT was during a recent safety inspection for a contractor that I finally
realized not everything is a safety problem.
One of the students on an inspection team found a fire extinguisher that had
been placed on the ground for so long, it had rusted to the floor and become a
residence for several spiders. The only reason for the extinguisher to be in
this unusual condition was the fact this particular organization was going
through some "downsizing."
The inspection team asked what OSHA standards and NFPA standards were
violated. I told them the OSHA regulations are found under 29 CFR 1910.157, and
you can find fire extinguishers under NFPA 15. I also asked if this were in fact
a safety issue or some other problem, such as local leadership or the local fire
inspector not doing his job.
My career in workplace safety began in 1984 in the Marine Corps. One of my
many duties was to ensure all Marines in my organization attended a mandatory
driver improvement program before reaching their 26th birthday. Though not a
difficult program to manage, it did prove to be a tedious one. Seventeen years
later, I was back teaching safety courses to the Marines and realized these
future safety managers were having some of the same safety problems I had
experienced almost two decades before.
The problem was not the rules and regulations established to manage the
program. There was a lack of leadership supporting the safety managers. There
always was an excuse why an individual could not attend training--but the
leadership would be the first to criticize the safety manager when this
individual was denied driving privileges for not attending the course.
One thing that I do live by, and it is part of any safety training class that
I teach, is what I call the ABCs of Safety. I have seen articles written on that
subject, but I would like to add my own version.
A is for Attitude and Agenda
A stands for ATTITUDE. I have observed,
and learned the hard way, that safety professionals have attitudes, too. Many
want the perfect safety program regardless of circumstances, and this can be
more damaging to the program than employees' attitudes. Look at the process, not
Every organization also has a number of employees who have a bad attitude
about safety. Some of them also are disciplinary problems, disregard other
company rules and regulations, abuse sick leave and company uniform regulations,
and fail to wear PPE--but they are first to cry foul when injured on the job.
These are the same people who will abuse worker's compensation with a bogus
A also stands for AGENDA. In order to manage any safety program, you first
must conduct a needs assessment, then set goals and objectives.
Third, you must implement and design programs. Finally, you must conduct
an evaluation. It sounds simple enough. There are safety professionals
who have made this process even simpler, however.
First, ask "Where are we now?" Follow with, "Where do we want to go?" Ask,
"How do we get there?" And finally ask, "How did we do?" Write these four
questions on your agenda or plan and charge your safety committee with finding
Another A that's very important when it comes to safety is AGGRESSIVE. Keep
in mind that safety programs are not for the meek and mild. There must be an
aggressive safety program with the support of senior and top management.
B is for Basics
B stands for BASICS. Many safety professionals try to
improve on safety programs but have forgotten or overlooked some basics. The
most basic requirement is top management support.
I was tasked with teaching the Hazard Communication Standard to an
organization where many drivers were responsible for cleaning up hazardous
chemical spills and transporting the hazardous waste to a nearby disposal
facility. It was not a real area of concern except for one major problem: Some
of these drivers refused to wear a seat belt and had been counseled about the
possibility of repercussions if their attitude didn't change.
Here, the basics were overlooked. How can a safety officer or an outside
consultant instruct a group of employees about OSHA standards, chemicals,
Material Safety Data Sheets, and labels when their employer cannot get them to
wear a seat belt? Keep an eye on the basics.
C is for Culture, Change, and Caring
The letter C seems to be common
with most safety professionals. It stands for CULTURE. Every organization has
its own unique culture. Some have the culture of a big, happy family; others
have a culture of distrust and can be confrontational. There is a myriad of
other cultures, as well as subcultures. The safety professional needs to work
through those areas that may be causing the culture. If the culture is believing
management doesn't care, find out why employees feel that way and change that
Two other Cs also are building blocks for safety programs. One is the
constant CHANGE we go through, and the other stands for CARING. Programs need to
change and the organization needs to care: Simple management skills.
Money and Root Causes
The last letter I want to share with you is M,
for MONEY. Safety programs cost money; the organization can pay now or pay
I recently saw a message seeking a safety manager in California for a large
organization of about 10,000 people. The hourly rate was $18. This ad reminded
me of the story about a man who always complained about his pastor and the
pastor's sermon. But the man puts $1 into the collection at every service. His
son sees and hears this many times until finally he looks at his father and
asks, "What do you expect for a dollar?"
Recently I have been adding as many safety professionals to my database as
possible. I've discovered my concerns are the same as for others who have chosen
safety as their profession. We don't face real SAFETY problems, but safety seems
to be a good scapegoat for many of our organizations' problems. Employees'
refusing to wear seat belts is not a safety issue, but a management issue.
Top management needs to realize there are morale problems, there are legal
issues, there are disgruntled employees, and there are lazy employees.
Organizations hire problems, and some supervisors are not going to enforce the
rules. There are employees who will not work safely.
Safety professionals, keep doing your job and manage aggressive safety
programs. You are not the problem, but you are part of the solution. Remind your
employees that it takes only a second to become a statistic.
This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.