Developing Safety Champions
Normally when we think about our “safety leaders,” we think of people who have been selected to be the safety spokesperson to represent the company’s programs, policies, procedures, or goals. We then designate these people titles such as safety director, safety manager, or something similar that identifies them as the safety go-to person. In other instances, we expect other members of a company’s management team to be the safety leader, but usually safety becomes a side-bar to their normal duties.
A safety director or safety manager is a very important person to have in your organization. There needs to be someone to guide the Safety Program and develop consistent interpretation, understanding, and enforcement. This person will also represent the company Safety Program’s goals and history to others, such as clients, general contractors, or government agencies. Unfortunately, this person is only one individual, and they cannot be everywhere at once. This is why contractors need to put in place a program and tools that enables other employees to be safety champions on their respective job sites.
TOOLS FOR SAFETY LEADERS
Employers know that most of their employees are intelligent, motivated individuals who want to do a good job and do not want to get hurt on the job. They like the concept of safety, but sometimes feel that it gets in the way of efficiently doing their job. On the other hand, there are some instances where they feel as though they are being pushed by management to cut corners to get the job done. Whether this is true or not, it is the perception of the employee that is what is important. How the employee perceives the importance of safety will guide their actions with respect to safety, so it is critical that all company leaders present a united attitude on the importance of safety on the job site. When employees see the importance that management places on safety, they will begin to adjust their attitude toward safety.
Once employees’ attitude toward safety begins to change, a safety leader must start providing employees with the tools necessary to enact a change. One of the most important tools to enact change is the Safety Observation Report. This is a simple document that employees can utilize to identify an unsafe condition or action that needs correction. Consider the first roll out of a Safety Observation Report as a “Safety Suggestion Box Form.” The most important aspect of the Safety Observation Report is the feedback that employees receive after submitting the report. The feedback should always be positive in nature and should include the action that management will take to fix the problem identified by employees. The next phase of the Safety Observation Report should require an employee who filled out a report to take some initial action to mitigate the unsafe condition or action identified themselves, and the safety leader will need to respond to the employee to show that the employee’s actions were recognized and appreciated.
Another important tool in a safety leader’s toolbox is the “Stop Work Responsibility” Process. This process empowers an employee to call a “time-out” on the job site to discuss and correct safety concerns. When employees understand that they have the authority to correct safety concerns, and the expectation of management is that they will apply this authority in a constructive manner, then employees will begin to take ownership of job site safety, not only for themselves but also for everyone else on the site.
Stop Work Responsibility activities need to be documented and turned in to the safety leader so that he or she can track any trends, communicate the safety concerns to other job sites, and reward employees for the positive growth with regard to safety and leadership.
Another important tool for safety leaders are safety committees. These committees should be comprised of employees of all levels, from various workplaces and job sites. The committee will meet on a regular schedule to discuss safety concerns, incidents, near misses, safety trends, and other safety-related topics. One important aspect of the committee is that “rank” stays outside the door. During the meeting, all participants must be recognized as equals and have the chance to be heard. The names of the committee members as well as the committee’s activities and actions should be communicated to all workplaces and job sites on a regular basis. This will provide your employees with the knowledge that management and their fellow coworkers are looking out for their safety.
A quality Mentorship Program for new employees is another important tool for a safety leader. Safety mentors should be assigned to each new employee, regardless of their position. A safety mentor will guide and train the new employee on the company’s expectations, goals, programs, and policies for an initial period of employment. This will enable the new employee to gain a better understanding of job site safety, and the safety mentor will gain a better understanding of safety as well. The best way to fully understand something and appreciate it is to teach it.
When company management and safety leaders apply these basic tools and others similar to these, they will find that they have planted the seeds for a good, quality Safety Culture for their organization. When this culture begins to grow, safety leaders will find that every employee in the workplace and on the job site will become safety champions. Safety Leaders are important in every organization, but safety champions are even more critical since they are the ones that truly achieve safety at the workplace and job sites. Identifying safety champions should be easy, since every employee should be a safety champion.