Setting Realistic Short-Term Safety Goals That Work

Sadly, few safety gurus need a crystal ball to watch the historic economic meltdown in industry this year. Corporate managers are moving from simple chaos to broad, sweeping cuts in staffing and program elements. They're trying to save the company, while others are completely giving up and closing down.

Trying to manage a safety program during this time can be devastating to both the safety staff and the program's success itself. Corporate managers often kill the safety program in the name of saving jobs. You have to keep a positive, valuable program that is working harder than anyone else in front of them! What can you do?

  • Read the signs in your corporate environment. What is the position of your industry, and how will it weather this wrenching global slowdown? Very few corporations are immune to the economic bloodbath that is occurring; but with that being said, some are better positioned to ride out the downturn with fewer losses.
  • Review your safety program's successes and failures, and focus on the successes right now. No matter how great your program is, now is not the time to ask for a raise.
  • Have a very short-term mindset. Monthly or even weekly planning may be needed in some industry settings until the economy begins to recover. Delay what you can, reconfigure what is really critical, and hold off any new program, equipment, or staff.
  • Focus on ways to meet your program goals. Save every penny you can. Cut expensive consultants and outside trainers, doing what you can yourself. Trade skills with other safety pros or renegotiate fees to a lower amount. I'm not saying that these professionals are not needed or qualified; I'm planning to save my own job first!

Ways You Can Save Professionally

  • Be up front with your family and your manager. If insurance is the most important item to you (as a cancer survivor, I know it is for me!), advise management you will willingly take a short-term reduction in pay, a cut in your hours, etc. in order to save your job and your benefits. (Let's be blunt, a short paycheck is better than the nightmare of unemployment and what that does to a family.)
  • If you are a contract employee, consultant, or professional trainer, contact every account and carefully listen to them. Offer a reduced payment schedule if possible or another added-value feature, such as a free class, in order to stay on the payroll. Put in writing that you are trying to help your corporate contracts succeed with a safe workplace.
  • Cut your travel. Forgo expense accounts and eat on your own dime for a few months. For multi-location corporate sites, travel only when really necessary, grouping trips and enduring longer days instead of incurring overnight expenses. Be creative and keep the bosses well informed of your money-saving efforts. Have locals send you a digital photo of a situation, for example. (You're already using conference calls routinely, right?) Sometimes corrections can be made without on site visits, or at least with reduced visits. One safety pro contacted me and told me about using his pull-along RV in the corporate parking lots for overnight travel instead of hotels and food bills. Such efforts show you are working with the bottom line in mind.
  • Cut add-on expenses. Professional dues are critical to any safety professional, but I will gladly pay my own (did so this year), as opposed to sinking my budget by asking a struggling corporate budget to pick it up. Advise your bosses what you are doing is trying to help the bottom line as a team player and that when the company recovers, you will revert your professional dues back to a budget line item. (Remember, they are tax deductible in many cases.)
  • Cut professional education. This one hurts me, but to save my job, I will willingly miss professional conferences for a year and keep up with new safety items by sharing new books with other safety pros and taking online training (some of which is very good) in exchange for remote and expensive training classes. I hear of groups of safety pros who are sharing conference materials. Each is planning to attend only one professional conference and will bring back materials and information for others in the office.


Daily I hear from experienced safety professionals who are either on the verge of being let go, have been terminated with no notice, or are reading the signs and trying to prepare before another corporate wave hits them. What can you do personally?

  • If you have not done so, dust off that resume and get it updated. Include your personal e-mail account on it, not your corporate e-mail address.
  • Reconnect with your references and update their addresses, e-mails, phone numbers, etc. Make sure you have letters of reference, too. As we often find out, some of our references have moved, died, retired, or otherwise dropped off the radar. Now is the time to do the legwork to find them.
  • Make sure you have copies of needed “show and tell” work items for your next interview. Take it home now, just in case.

This is one of the toughest times I can remember in safety. Watch for the signs daily of how your corporation is handling the economic downturn. Your actions now may help to save your program and your job/benefits.

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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