No false starts

April 30, 2003
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Who in today's world of doing more with less has time to NOT do the right thing right the first time? This article describes seven steps for developing and deploying a health and safety management system that should go a long way to avoid false starts.

1) Clearly identify the need that is being met. There is no room for doing things that are "nice." You must point to a clearly articulated need, one that is appreciated and understood by senior line management. The key here is to convince managers that a comprehensive health and safety management system will simplify their life, increase efficiency in achieving improved health and safety results, and clearly indicate by measurement a site's capability to achieve predictable results. Your system will allow managers to specifically understand why they are getting the results they are - and just what they have to do to achieve improved results.

2) Involve senior managers in the development phase. This is key to gaining their buy in. A guaranteed false start is for the health and safety staff to develop a management system and then take it to senior managers for their blessing. Remember, if it looks like a staff product and feels like a staff product, it will smell like a staff product. That is not good. Ask your managers to designate line managers to play an active role on your design team. After all, they are the ones who will have to deploy it and live with it.

Also, your senior line managers must set health and safety performance expectations for your site. With your input, managers should:

  • Set the EXPECTATIONS for the site;
  • COMMUNICATE these expectations;
  • Demonstrate COMMITMENT to these expectations during tours, meetings and one-on-one discussions;
  • Provide reasonable RESOURCES - provide the right to succeed;
  • Track progress and hold the organization ACCOUNTABLE; and,
  • RECOGNIZE and REWARD progress and performance.

3) Involve your employees. Employees must be involved in all aspects of health and safety. They need to be well aware of goals and expectations. They need to identify safe behaviors that go into behavior observation sampling and participate in observations, as well as perform inspections and conduct presentations at safety meetings.

4) Keep it simple and thin. Don't doom your plan to a long and dusty shelf life. A health and safety management system must be easily understood and have a small and finite number of elements. Be concise to get broad acceptance. Key elements of your system and rating criteria for charting performance should be short and to the point. Remember what Wally said to Dilbert, "A thick manual is a monument to temporary knowledge."

5) Stay focused. Rarely do sites achieve excellence when their focus is constantly changing from one program to another. A well-designed health and safety management system needs to be both balanced and comprehensive. Avoid "flavor of the month" approaches.

6) Find your advocates. Strategically start deployment of your management system by selecting sites more likely to embrace or accept the approach. "Pick the low hanging fruit." Remember, during the design phase you asked senior line managers to designate line management to be on the design team. Pick your initial site(s) where you expect to have advocates for the management systems approach. Rarely can you deploy a system broadly and force its use by edict. Achieve early successes and let those successes drive broader acceptance.

7) Validate your results. Your system must deliver on its implied promise to get results. Start to develop a database immediately. Obviously it will take some time before enough data (points on a curve) can be collected, but start deployment with the thought that to avoid a mega false start you need to validate the system over a reasonable period of time. Validation goes a long way in securing senior manager acceptance and assuring sustainability of your health and safety management system.

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