Staying Active and Focused

If you want it done, involve safety. As anyone in the safety profession knows, we are super-busy and constantly asked to take on new responsibilities. Why? Because we work through any obstacles and get the job done! Safety folks are organized, focused, overworked, and get our jobs done with less than enough financial backing. We are creative team players.

Safety sees the "best of the best" and the not-so-sterling in day-to-day work duties. We see projects that will indeed help improve workplace safety and enhance the education of our workers; supervisors who care and try to make a positive difference while getting the work done; corporate managers who are willing to devote the manpower and financial resources to promote the goals of lower workplace accidents and injuries. These are the movers and shakers of the industry who set the stage for progress.

Unfortunately, we also see the bad side of safety: the supervisors who believe safety takes work time away from them and safety efforts are a waste of time. Training is unnecessary, these people say, and any safety measure or attitude that is already in place is "good enough" and never needs upgrading or review. These narrow-minded folks see safety as an "add on" and try diligently to use the safety professional for other duties, which can weaken our safety message and drain our time away from our efforts to improve workplace safety.

Every safety pro has a memory of non-safety duty on every job, ranging from setting up tables and transporting vehicles to checking doors, administrative duties, and even managing non-safety programs. Such activities drain time and can break our spirit. We get volunteered a lot for non-safety tasks.

How do we remain focused and effective, day in and day out? How can we add a safety tone or note to such tasks while completing tasks specifically asked of us by our management? I suggest these approaches:

• Maintain your professionalism and a positive attitude. Whining merely brings negative attention to safety and leaves a sour impression. Sometimes we are just stuck (for the moment).

• Remind upper management (gently) of your efforts. Keep a list of these non-safety tasks and remind management at your review that your time is being diluted. Have a plan in mind of who could on take these tasks, or propose other creative options.

• Offer a way out. I never refuse any task asked of me by upper management, but I lay it on the line: "I'll be glad to help with ABC project, even though it is not safety related, but please remember I will not be able to get my safety tasks completed." Remind them of the costs involved of using safety professional in support or non-safety roles. Offer an alternative, such as temporary help, volunteers, etc.

• If all else fails, bring along training aids for group activities such as setting up tables. I have handed out safety training items or product samples during non-safety tasks to get workers talking and have found the time very useful. Show samples and new items (sunscreen samples, for example) always get workers chatting, and you never know what you will hear!

Any time is safety time, depending on how we approach it and work through the misdeeds of management. Stay positive, stay focused, and stay in action! Our workers depend on us.

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

About the Author

Linda J. Sherrard, MS, CSP, is Safety Consultant II with Central Prison Healthcare Complex, NCDPS in Raleigh, N.C., and is the former technical editor of OH&S.

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