Your Safety Program Isn’t Special (Here’s Why)
For many organizations, the safety training program is sacred: old, tested, believed-in.
Considered a reflection of leadership or part of an organization’s ‘DNA’, such safety programs may be so specific to familiar working environments and procedures that deviation seems inconceivable.
Anchored by injury/accident stories that are repeated year after year, until they reach the point of myth or legend, these programs survive on ‘tribal knowledge’ and a way of practicing safety that no other workforce could mimic.
This institutional mindset is typically a product of workforce demographics where an aging management tier is buoyed by the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality.
And it persists because safety is highly personal, because no two organizations are the same, because working environments are specific, because hazard exposure is nuanced…there is only one possible way to do ‘safety’ effectively and that’s your way…right?
There’s plenty of experience and logic behind this approach to occupational safety, especially if the results are consistent with performance expectations—perhaps there’s more to lose by shaking things up.
No question: having a set of core safety principles that are easily communicated to employees and embraced across the organization makes great sense.
So what if I told you that safety programs with this profile embrace a false sense of uniqueness that ultimately serves to undermine the evolution of safety culture?
The truth is that most working environments are alive, dynamic, and changing each in day in ways both obvious and subtle.
Numerous factors introduce daily changes: energy flow, employee traffic patterns, movement of equipment, maintenance of equipment, introduction of supplies, storage and inventory migration, weather, indoor temperature, movement and use of tools, air quality, mix of personnel, shift changes, process changes, etc.
In other words, it's only quiet when the lights go off and people head home (unless yours is an around-the-clock operation).
Yet the hazards your workforce negotiates on the job—no matter the personnel, no matter the location—are fundamentally the same for all employers.
A trip hazard is a trip hazard, an improperly guarded machine is just that, and ANSI standards are ANSI standards.
Electrical standard violations are the same in the eyes of OSHA wherever found, and may only look a little different in each circumstance.
In other words, according to state and federal regulatory agencies, your organization isn’t special—compliance is compliance.
However, what is unique is the opportunity you have to affect your safety climate.
This realization underscores the need for innovation, creativity, and dynamic engagement across your occupational safety and health program, beyond blind faith in ‘the way we’ve always done it’.
To help with evaluation, here are several factors that occupational safety & health leaders can influence directly…
- Policy Implementation
- Performance Criteria for Teams & Individuals
- Safety Protocol
Ask yourself now about ways to ‘move the needle’ of improvement for each category, and you’ll likely be reminded of opportunities that once seemed obvious or are standing right in front of you today.
Periodically, all organizations should revisit safety program expectations (annual review is widely accepted best-practice), and determine what success should look like in the shifting operational context of now…
- High awareness
- High performing safety climate
- Zero injuries or accidents
- No lost time
- Addition/revision of written safety program
No surprise: organizations that have a smart, guiding set of core safety principles, are also the same organizations that routinely evaluate safety programs and safety systems for performance; their success isn’t accidental, but a product of those core principles. The commitment to goal-setting is a great example.
It may sound counterintuitive, yet if you want to enfranchise more effective ‘true believers’ in your occupational safety & health program, actively incorporate your most recent hires into the safety leadership structure.
These employees have fresh eyes, new ideas, are the future of your organization, and you’ve invested in them already.
More important than that, however, is that this employee group is statistically more likely be injured on the job…
“In 2013, nearly one-third of the nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses that involved time away from work were suffered by workers with less than one year of service, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” – National Safety Council
How to work them in? Ask them to share their personal safety experiences from onboarding to date, along with concerns and suggestions, and dedicate time for individual observation as they navigate the workday.
You’ll likely discover significant coaching opportunities or obvious gaps in knowledge that is assumed to have been acquired through initial safety training processes or safety orientation.
Just some thoughts to help you ensure that the effectiveness of your safety program is less an article of faith and more a matter of fact.