The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

When your data shows a troublesome negative trend, rely on core safety principles that have worked throughout the years to get things turned around and your program back on track.

A successful safety program in today's world utilizes many of the same building blocks that have been used in recent decades. Technology has altered the processes and regulations have steered priorities, but creating a strong workplace safety culture still requires a persistent approach to the basics.

In most cases, time makes us wiser. Mistakes are made, they are learned from, and the course is adjusted. In instances where accidents are on the rise or enforcement fines have been incurred, it would be a good time to reevaluate the safety program and get down to tried and true elements of successful safety.

It is unquestionable that we face new hazards in an ever-changing world, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel or try something cutting edge when workable solutions are in place. Take a look at your fundamental safety pieces and implement what has been proven to work. Follow up to provide measurable lasting changes.

Clear Communication
Good communication is a characteristic of all well-run organizations. The right hand must know what the left hand is doing and everyone must be pulling in the same direction, from the board room to the production line. This clarity aids efficiency. Communication has become associated with safety as disciplinary, punishment when things go wrong. If you use "gotcha safety," rethink your strategy before they replace you with a more positive influence. Safety should help, not disrupt.

Safety programs must have easily understood policies and procedures that do not leave room for interpretation. A policy change discussed and implemented at a management meeting needs to be communicated to all levels of your organization through whatever means possible, whether it be email, posters, memos, team meetings, or in-service training. Tone matters, as does communication at the level and in the language needed. The communication should not only convey the change being made, but also the motivation behind the change. Change for change's sake creates distrust. The "why" behind the policy change will give every employee a glimpse at the bigger picture, which will promote program buy-in.

For example, safety professionals should not rely on Hazard Communication alone for chemical awareness. Signage, labels, and SDSs aid in communicating risks, but these are not effective enough without the backing of straightforward policies. A bright sign will get someone's attention (at least the first few times they see it), but the safety manual's policies and procedures lend an element of teaching to how the employees ought to be functioning in their roles.

Measure, Monitor, and Evaluate
Get involved. Be heard. Be seen. Listen. Ask for feedback. When was the last time you actually witnessed your policies and procedures in action to see whether they work or are flawed? Have you stood side by side with the very employees the safety manual is aiming to protect? Do you allow feedback from employees working 8-, 10-, or even 12-hour shifts to see things through their tired eyes? Get out from behind your desk.

Are your safety policies working? How do you know? Implement measurable components into your safety program to determine whether your organization is improving or at least maintaining a certain standard. Plug in data, utilize graphs to help with visualization, and disseminate the findings to everyone. No one likes to advertise that the safety situation is not improving, but the only way to change that is to be honest and proactive. If things are improving, it will reinforce that some of the changes made were successful and you can continue to address areas that could be performing better. If you don't share the data -- guess whom the top dogs will bite when they are blindsided by the revelation their safety program is weak?

Use the data as a tool for selling your program to everyone from upper management to the front-line worker. A negative trend presented in the right way may get you increased resources, and a positive trend can show your organization you are running a tight program focused on continuous improvement.

Housekeeping: Part of Everyone's Job
While not necessarily a direct function of safety, a clean work environment is a key component in keeping risks to a minimum. Set a standard and make sure everyone understands what is expected from a cleanliness standpoint, and reinforce that it is everyone's responsibility to contribute in this area.

Eliminate clutter, which left alone can impede means of egress or add fuel to a fire situation. Store materials in suitable containers within designated areas. Avoid potential slips and falls by reducing extension cords, cleaning up spills, or adding slip-resistant surfaces. Notify appropriate associates of defective equipment. If equipment is not repairable, dispose of it.

Poor housekeeping habits will lead to citations, fines, injuries, all the way up to and including death. Complacency at the sight of spills, trash, and general disorganization is counterproductive to the culture of safety you are trying to create. A sloppy workplace is a good indicator of an ineffective safety program.

When you evaluate your safety program, take into consideration any added process within your organization since the last review. PPE is available for all areas of the workplace on all types of budgets. Speak with team leaders, managers, and foremen to get feedback on current PPE and its shortcomings. Material, weight, comfort, and style all need to be considered and compared to new PPE on the market. It is your job to weigh the ROI.

More Elemental Pieces
As you walk through your facility looking at things from a safety perspective, take your time and be seen on all shifts. Observe that machine guards are in place, first aid kits are stocked, PPE is being worn properly, and aisles are clear of trip hazards. Talk to your maintenance staff about current projects and ask them about the lockout/tagout procedures. How is the lighting at the workstations? What about the noise level?

Be approachable so as to encourage hesitant co-workers to ask questions and offer input. Act as a supportive teacher and explain why specific safety policies are in place. Quell any facility concerns and reassure the employees that you have their health and safety in mind. Follow up when needed; your employees are watching, as are your managers.

Create Your Success
When a winning sports team slumps into an extended losing streak or an ace pitcher cannot seem to find the strike zone, what do they do? They go back to basics and make sure to focus on the fundamentals. It’s the same in safety. When your data shows a troublesome negative trend, rely on core safety principles that have worked throughout the years to get things turned around and your program back on track.

Safety has the ability to touch all levels of the organization, which is a powerful position that can effect change. We are often the keepers of a lot of knowledge, trust, and hope. Your influence, consistency for corrective action, follow-up, and demeanor will help you succeed. Showcase your program success, acknowledge your shortcomings, and you will be known as a team player and your career will soar. No need to boast . . . let others sing your praises.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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