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Sharing the Program Liability for Safety

Managing a safety program can be a struggle on the good days. All too often, managers and supervisors want to ensure the program is known as "your safety program" rather than the company's or department's safety program. That "hands off" approach will cause many elements of the goals and initiatives to stall quickly, and it sets up a method for blame to begin when things fall by the wayside.

Once this begins, a smoothly running safety program can become a nightmare to manage and make changes that are meaningful and lasting. How do you cover yourself professionally while moving your safety efforts forward? Here are some tried-and-true suggestions to consider:

• Include key players in safety communications such as memos and e-mails. Send copies of safety committee minutes to them for review.

• Bump up awareness by dispersing more information in a variety of ways. This is a time drain, but one that is often well worth the effort because it improves awareness on the job.

• Ensure to the extent possible that safety items are included in high-level meetings and committees. This is where your upper management can assist your success by being a partner, not a spectator!

• Document! Keep important documentation--including e-mails. This shows knowledge, a history of communication, and input.

• Broadcast awareness issues through corporate routes. Include roles, mission statements, and goals of the program.

• Make sure employees and upper management understand and know what your role is as the safety professional. Lacking this, safety often becomes the catch-all for unwanted tasks and duties.

• Review your job description and yearly performance evaluation. Personally, I have found surprises more than once concerning program responsibilities and partner efforts that suddenly "became" a safety program.

• Learn to say no gracefully. Safety tries to be a true team player, but others take that as a willingness to take on any defunct program. Resist, nicely.

• Ask for help from other groups. A semiannual meeting--or more often, if necessary--shows you are doing your part to keep everything moving forward.

One of the most important items to remember is that no one person is the safety program. Safety is a process and evolves over time with increased awareness of hazards and prevention, management support, and employees' compliance.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Linda J. Sherrard (ljohnsonsherrard@nc.rr.com), MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant II with Central Prison Healthcare Complex in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OHS.

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