The Top 10 Implementation Pitfalls of a Safety Observation Program

Safety observations are an important piece of the puzzle in transforming an organization's safety culture. They shine a light on workplace behaviors and safety conditions. Safety observations, if done well, should make safety conversations second nature, reinforce safe work practices and show trends in unsafe work practices. There is no doubt incorporating an observation program into an organization is necessary when trying to evolve to an interdependent safety culture. However, there are several pitfalls an organization can fall into that can lead to disaster.

1. Lack of management commitment. There are a few reasons management may not be committed to the safety observation program.
a. Some managers may feel safety is the "working man's problem." Since they may not be in the front line of danger in their organization, needing to be safe "isn't their problem."
b. They really don't understand how the program works. It's just something they were instructed to put in place. If management doesn't show support for the program and its processes, it will fail.

2. Management not setting a good example. Whether it's top management or line management, the maximum level of safety an organization can expect from its employees is the minimum demonstrated from leadership.

3. The observation program should not be punitive. If workers see this program as another way to catch and punish them for doing something wrong, the program will fail. A safety observation program is one way to show your employees you care. It's not just about productivity or bottom line profits. It's showing concern for their well-being.

4. Viewing safety as less important than production, cost, quality or morale. Safety should be viewed as equal to production, cost, quality and morale. Safety should not be a priority, as priorities tend to change. Working safely should be a constant expectation and a condition of employment.

5. Not following specified training method. The observation program chosen should have a history of proven results. The instructional design of the program is purposeful and therefore the process should be rolled out as instructed. There should be no unapproved shortcuts.

6. Failure to acknowledge safe work practices. An observation program is not just about correcting unsafe or at-risk behaviors. It's just as important to acknowledge safe work practices. This reinforces the employees desire to keep working safely.

7. Not gathering relevant data. The data gathered should be relevant to the environment. For instance, if personal protective equipment is not required at a particular site, having a section for personal protective equipment for reporting would not be necessary. The safety data gathered should reflect the jobs and tasks conducted at the facility.

8. Failure to track observation results. Observing safety should happen all the time. However, planned, documented (formal) safety observations should take place on a regular basis. Tracking your observation data allows management to see where their organization's successes and pain points are. Organizations should be able to track by observer, date, site, department, area or shift. The name of the person should never be documented.

9. Not sharing data results. If data results are not shared with the employees, formal safety observations may seem like busy work. This is when you start to get quantity over quality. Sharing the data lets the employees know there is a reason for their efforts and action will be taken, whether it's in the form of training, investigation or corrective action.

10. Creating unhealthy competition and quotas. Turning this into a game will defeat the purpose of having an observation program. Competition and quotas can lead to invalid data gathering. For the sake of "winning" employees start to record incorrect/invalid data for the simple task of turning something in. Conversations will be foregone. Resulting trends may be inaccurate. The goal here is a culture shift, not a temporary data collection process.

What challenges do you foresee in your organization? The key to a successful implementation is preventing negative issues. Thinking about and planning ahead for possible issues and theoretically working through how to prevent them up front will lead you through a smooth implementation process.

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