How to Make an Impact as Safety Professionals

How to Make an Impact as Safety Professionals

Safety professionals want to make sure all workers get home safely, but what are the best ways to do that?

Ask any safety professional what drives or motivates them to get out of bed in the morning and you’ll probably get 1,000 different answers. Some people may be motivated by their experience working in the industry, some may be motivated by combat experience, some may be motivated by their desire to help people and some may be motivated by money; the point is, we’re all motivated by something. While it’s great to know what motivates you, it’s even more important to ask yourself, “what impact do I want to make today?” 

As someone who spent over a decade working as a paramedic on the streets, I’ve seen and dealt with many catastrophic injuries and illnesses that resulted from unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors. These were horrible experiences, but these experiences are what made an impact in my life and motivated me to get into safety. The thoughts “what if I could be more proactive rather than reactive?” or “how can I be part of preventing injuries and illnesses rather than responding to them?” ignited the burning passion for safety within me that has only intensified over time. Even still, I find myself asking “what impact do I want to make today?” or more importantly, “how can I make a positive impact today?”

Unlike the things that motivate safety professionals, the impact that we’re looking to make is likely very similar; we want to see everyone go home safely at the end of the day. We want to see you enjoy time with your family, enjoy time with your pets, enjoy playing golf, enjoy hunting and fishing, enjoy mountain climbing or enjoy any other thing that you look forward to in life without worrying about an accident at work taking those things away from you. We’re all looking to make the same impact, but how do we get there? There’s an infinite number of ways, but here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Be a Servant Leader. A true safety professional is one who not only knows the way and shows the way but also makes the effort to help workers “go the way.” I could write for days on how powerful servant leadership is and how effective it is at empowering others to lead the way; however, the key takeaway here is that safety professionals need to set their agenda aside and look out for the needs of others before taking care of their own. Robert K. Greenleaf once said, “Good leaders must first become good servants.”

Show that You Care. Unfortunately, there’s a large stigma placed on safety professionals, so gaining the trust of workers is an uphill battle. The truth is, safety professionals are not there to be the judge, jury and executioner; rather, they should be a friend, resource and servant to those performing the work. Take the extra effort to spend time in the field with workers, ask them about the difficulties in their job and be there to support them to make their job easier and safer.

Have Empathy. Empathy can be a difficult concept to grasp. A lot of folks are quick to assume that empathy means compassion or care for another; however, that’s not quite the meaning of empathy. The literal definition from Oxford is “the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc.” We’ve all heard the saying “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes;” in other words, take time to understand what someone is going through before making assumptions. Have empathy for workers, understand the struggles they face, understand their past experiences and try to see things from their perspective.

Learn to Ask Questions. If you really want to get to know people and their work, ask questions. More importantly, ask questions instead of giving answers. Asking “is there a safer way to perform that task?” can be far more constructive than stating, “That’s not safe, you need to do it this way.” By asking questions, you give workers an opportunity to give their input on the solution—and, in turn, they are much more likely to participate in safe work practices.

Look Beyond the OSHA Manual. All too often, safety professionals get caught up in the OSHA standards and regulations and forget the real reason that this whole thing exists in the first place. One thing I’ve learned is that “…because OSHA says so” is one of the least effective statements that you can make as a safety professional. Sure, we have to abide by what OSHA, NFPA, ANSI, XYZ says; however, we should also try to take a moral and ethical approach to safety. “We can’t do it that way because someone is going to get hurt, is there another way to complete that task?” is a much more effective way to disagree with a current practice than throwing an OSHA book at someone. At the end of the day, the impact that we are trying to make is getting everyone home safely. If we want to be effective as safety professionals, then we need to bring ethics and morals into our equation when trying to make a change.

There are an infinite number of solutions to making a meaningful impact in safety. There are thousands of articles, just like this one, explaining ideas to incorporate into your routine. There is also no “one size fits all” in safety. The important thing is that we take time to set our egos and agenda aside, do some soul-searching, do some research, and figure out what works best for our individual scenario. For me, it’s all about servant leadership and empowering others to make the safe choice for themselves. The question now is, how are you going to make a positive impact in safety today and every day?

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