A Call for Leadership

Sometimes, employees learn what not to do from their safety management.

With springtime comes the surge of construction activity—an exciting time, and possibly a dangerous time, too. Lots of new sites begin work as soon as the severe weather breaks. New crews, different trades, and subcontractors work in close proximity with seasoned workers, temporary employees, and even interns.Multicultural and -lingual sites are common.In such settings, how do you know who is at risk for injury? As part of each job, is safety discussed in detail? Are you and your managers leading safety effectively?

It is not unusual for workers to get in a hurry at the end of the day (or at the end of the job or the season, for that matter) and throw PPE into a bucket, bin, or even on the windshield of the work truck until needed the next time.More than once during my career, I have seen dirty,worn respirators; damaged safety glasses; or filthy ear plugs that I have no doubt an employee would pull out and wear if required to without a second thought. It’s the same with shortcuts of other types:working with damaged equipment (a missing back-up alarm or not wearing a fall protection harness that is attached to an anchorage, for example) or trying to shave some time by omitting safeguards “just this once.” Then, an accident occurs that could have been prevented. The safety management question is simple:Where is the management leadership in safety?

As you review your policies and safety supervision, ask what efforts your company makes to ensure each employee who needs training or PPE has it and wears or cares for it properly. Again, the more troubling question is, where is the management leadership in this quagmire? Are your leaders really leading your employees, or are they bringing up the rear of the pack, “hoping for the best”? We have all seen the invisible site safety manager—the one no one knows by name and is rarely seen. If your employees do not know who the safety staff are (if not by name, at least title), your company has a safety management problem on your construction sites.

Clues Are Easy to See While it is so easy to blame the safety manager, how about his/her upper management in the corporate suite shouldering some responsibility, too? Safety managers often feel their hands are tied by production and scheduling. The important thing to remember is that job sites are simple reflections of any company’s real attitude toward safety.

When any safety professional audits a construction site, the tone of the inspection is set quickly by basics of site housekeeping, attention to following safety policy/ procedures set by the company, and follow-up. If the manager on site is interested in safety efforts, the site and employees will have a more positive appearance and show interest in getting the job done safely! Employees will be able to explain safety training without being spoon-fed, and the measures needed for critical areas of fire protection, exits, high-hazard programs such as confined spaces and fall protection are understood by everyone.

It is a very hard thing to self-evaluate for our supervisors and managers, and no program will be perfect. However, as tough as it is to see our own flaws in safety programs, such efforts may save a life. One tool that is very useful is to provide a “program assessment” report that covers the areas/programs in place and highlights those needing improvement.

Traditionally, safety professionals are overworked, highly stressed loners who try diligently to stay one step ahead of disaster, at best.We think and perceive differently from other managers because our goal is different and more important.We need more manpower to get the job done, more money for equipment, and more time for professional development to understand everything needed from us.We are supervising the managers and, through education and awareness, spreading safety to the most changing and most transient of work sites: construction.

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

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