Safety Culture / Psychology

Are you a “chief listening officer?"

Press the flesh and take your info to management

October 1, 2011
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Why does safety get scrutinized in a way I don’t see human resources and quality professionals going under the microscope?

It seems to me that the overriding issue is company leadership trying to compensate for increased insurance costs and certainly increasingly expensive court cases involving injuries and incidents. Therefore they mandate actions like:

A company requires workers in scissor lifts to be ‘tied-off” regardless of the fact they are surrounded by a guardrail system. The rationale is that workers will climb on the rail system to gain more elevation, thereby creating a hazard. Somehow the issue of an acceptable anchorage and proper use of the equipment was lost in the decision process.

Or how about the “enhanced” assured grounding program where (construction) electrical components are inspected quarterly and generally a piece of colored tape is wrapped around the equipment to indicate it has been inspected and passed.

Now this has grown to include personal fall arrest systems, rigging equipment and ladders. The result is mayhem of the dangerous kind. At the beginning of each quarter the construction superintendent grabs whoever is available and tells them to change every piece of tape on his equipment to the new color. What about the inspection?

External auditors pass through looking for the correct color tape, not the condition of the equipment. Amazing! The whole process was developed to increase inspection of the equipment and the result is exactly the opposite. Now the correct color tape, not the condition of the equipment, is the pass/fail indicator.

“Lock step or leave”

I know safety professionals have challenged both issues, and lost. The owner or general contractor who mandates this informs the employees and subcontractors of the requirement and advises them to “lock step” or leave. Easy to understand how that turns out. What did Jerry Maguire say? Sadly the safety professional must now enforce the requirement even though it is not logical nor does it enhance worker safety and possibly it is not even in compliance with appropriate standards.

Company leadership, other than safety, just does not seem to understand. Over the years I have been involved in many classes and seminars that explain company liabilities and exposures. There are always lots of safety folks in attendance but seldom any of the company top leadership team. No wonder they make bad decisions involving safety. They do not know. We preach that we cannot hold workers accountable for processes and procedures that they were not trained on. Does the same logic apply to leaders?

There appears to be no end to what must be done. We need to worry about health and safety of employees at work, then we need to worry about travel to and from, then we are asked to help with safety after working hours, oh, and do not forget that now we have a group of telecommuters working in areas we have not inspected.

What is the fix?

Safety professionals need to become politicians. Talk to the workers, become the “Chief Listening Officer.” Find out what the workers need and think. Press the flesh in the offices and in the boardroom. Take your newly found information to company leadership because safety must come from the top.

But, before you do, become bi-lingual. Now you need to talk dollars, bottom-line, ROI. If you are not comfortable with that, you should read books or take courses. If you cannot explain it, you cannot sell it.

Still not getting through?

Try fear; point out cases where company leaders and/or owners are enjoying three squares a day in prison. Oh yeah, in addition to being a leader, a politician, a financial guru, did I mention you must become a super salesperson?

Developing a corps of leaders

Our profession needs engineers and technicians and fixers. But at the company/corporate decision level we need safety managers (leaders). Our profession needs to increase the financial training and experience required of our managers. By demanding this experience and training and then testing to it, we will have a corps of leaders who can operate effectively at the upper levels of any enterprise. Current leaders must start training newly minted safety professionals in finance and corporate-speak. Prepare them to be the leaders of the future.

Lead — follow — or get out of the way!

Your choice.

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