Wearing the Safety Brand
Safety is no longer "in the rear view mirror chasing upper management objectives." We are now leaders of the merged upper management team that runs the company.
When you start a new job and unpack the tools of the trade -- codes, computer and PDA, sock puppets, Ouija board, crystal ball, whip and chair -- do you ever consider how our roles have changed over the years? Safety may be spelled exactly the same, but, my oh my, the job has changed!
Old Dogs, Better Tricks
Safety has morphed into a better entity in most company situations. We have taken the best of other disciplines and merged them into our programs. We watch, learn, adapt, keep copies of everything, and modify until what we are working on meets our needs.
We have moved from "gotcha" safety beginning with disciplinary action, "swinging an ax" programs to proactive, prevention-driven, compassionate departments who truly want employees to work safely and help our departments succeed through persistence and awareness. We use new technology wisely for tracking data and measuring results. We share what we know and know whom to call as experts for information we are seeking.
We develop and present trend costs and methods to save. Our reports are easy to follow, visually graphic, and to the point. We are miserly when ordering "stuff" and make cost point recommendations in a timely manner. We are the ones called upon by upper management because they can always depend on us.
The Value of Safety
This has dramatically improved. Safety efforts are directly attached to the company’s bottom line, from worker's compensation to production disruption and ergonomics. Technology helps, with all of the modern monitors, computer-assisted items, better-designed tools, etc.
That being said, I believe "getting the point across" as the value of genuine communication is as important. The ability to plan consistently and well and to conduct meetings with ease are becoming lost arts. Can you think and problem-solve quickly?
The View from the Top
Upper management calls on us now to help, when we were once shunned. We are calm, know the organization, and can solve problems right the first time. We can develop a plan of action for any topic, outline the most garbled mess into a program, sum up in a few words the intent of hundreds of pages of cryptic code, train the untrainable ... and discipline when necessary by word or action, depending on the hazard.
That dog'll bite you. I'm a mentor; I freely admit it and rarely regret it. I had many great managers (not all were in safety) give me sage advice that saved me time and made my job easier fresh out of safety graduate school, many years ago.
And at times I missed the mark and made mistakes -- never catastrophic, but usually annoying or at least a time waster with egg on my face. I try diligently to keep new and green employees from making the mistakes I have made in my career. Many coming into the workforce have the technical knowledge but no people skills, patience, historical perspective, or the respect needed to succeed. I tell them to really listen. Some new employees actually understand and heed my shopworn advice, forms, or ways to get things changed that do not require disciplinary action, hysteria, and thousands of dollars.
Others, however, see mentoring as weakness and old-age safety dementia. They make assumptions (or do nothing) that will quickly lead to their own missed opportunity or even firing for reckless or negligent work ethics. I have found myself explaining over and over, "You have the technical ability to do a good job, but arrogance and ignorance are a bad combination."
Coming of Age and Passing It By
Safety is no longer "in the rear view mirror chasing upper management objectives." We are now leaders of the merged upper management team that runs the company. Once safety was deemed as a necessary evil position and compliance no-nonsense based. New attitudes and efforts have shined bright light on our usefulness to the bottom line for managers. Most safety pros are multi-purpose managers who can evaluate, train, develop programs, and document at expert levels. We are problem solvers through and through.
That leads to another important aspect: Money and gizmos do not solve all problems. Experienced safety professionals know how to diagnose and solve problems without beginning with stacks of money, and more importantly, we know how to build constructive relationships with other departments (such as maintenance, finance, human resources, warehouse) and thrive on information, communication, and a true helping attitude to ensure others succeed. Sadly, I see a lack of volunteerism in younger safety professionals -- me, me, me, me, me does not help to build a positive image. Experienced safety professionals know that credit comes from program success, not a short-lived spotlight on one person. There is a huge disconnect talking about teams and actually being a proactive part of one. Experience teaches us that the extra work we do today will pay big dividends later on.
Branding Your Safety Program
What we do has meaning. We "brand" our program according to the corporate image. Hold a mirror to your program; what do you see? Are your program and safety staff known, appreciated, and included throughout the facility? Or are they avoided, scorned, ignored, or even dreaded? You set the tone, so make it the right one every day.
Our roles have improved through hard work, dedication, and caring for employees' welfare. We speak up, we volunteer, we follow a project to the end without whining. With experience comes clarity: We know what is important and how to achieve it, from the simple to the excruciating. Because of our dedication, many do not know pain, injury, or lost wages, yet never know our names or efforts. We save thousands of dollars for our companies without extra reward in our paychecks. We do it because it is the right thing to do ("right's right, regardless whom it affects").
What a great career -- compassionate service, integrity, and common sense. It's not just meaning; we have positive impact.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 OHS issue of Occupational Health & Safety.