POSITIVE SAFETY CULTURES: Welcome to hard times

April 7, 2009
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As a safety pro, how are you affected by the current economic mess? What are the threats and what are the opportunities?

Let’s assume your company is cutting back and watching nickels, and perhaps even experiencing layoffs. Morale is down. Folks worried about finances at home are compounding that stress by worrying about job security. If they are “C” players, or even low “B” players, or if they are in non-critical jobs, their fears may be well-founded.

If the workforce is thinned out, “A” players still on the bus will be expected to do more with less. Combine their security-related stress with the additional responsibility, and they can be more at risk than ever for an accident.

As a leader in your company’s safety effort, what can you do to help your organization manage its way through this tough situation?

Can your skills be easily boxed and shipped out?

1 — Continue to emphasize safety is central to the business and to the people. It is never a “nice-to-do” add-on; it is always mission-critical, a total commitment and core value of the organization. The continuing focus on safety is non-negotiable. The fundamental mission must not be compromised, no matter what.

2 — Recognize that especially when conditions are volatile, folks depend more than ever on their leaders to provide tangible and psychological stability. Leaders buffer their organization from the ups and downs. Employees anchor their own level of commitment, focus, and attitude to that of leaders they respect and trust. Good leaders model calm, rationality, optimism, resilience, and steadiness during the turbulent times.

3 — Let folks know you care about them and are doing everything possible to stabilize things internally. This helps them have the courage and fortitude to keep doing the best job they are capable of, watching out for themselves and others.

4 — Recognize that turbulent times are fundamentally times of change. And change is often frightening. The self-styled “futurist” Joel Barker said many years ago that in times of change, “things reset to zero.” In a sense, we start over.

Safety pros can add value in new ways, strengthening their position, without taking anything away from their primary safety mission.

How about doing energy-use audits along with safety audits? Are lights and other electricity-using devices such as computers being left on when they could be turned off? What does not need to run 24-7? How are thermostats set? How is water used? Is mobile equipment turned off instead of idled for long periods of time?

I’ll bet you could find substantial savings through such energy audits, again concurrent with regular safety audits.

5 — Look at your reliance on outside resources. Tough economic times encourage more vertical integration, in order to use internal resources more effectively and reduce costs. Could you or your folks do more of what vendors do for you? Craft new partnering relationships, whereby you and/or your folks can take back some of the outside work, and use the external partner as a resource, not as the doer.

6 — Create a team of safety leaders. If you’re faced with expanded responsibilities, delegation is key. Trained and engaged safety coordinators can do real-time observation and coaching of safe behavior. They can be planners and leaders of effective safety meetings. Position yourself as the strategic leader, not a busy “individual contributor.”

7 — Expand your business-partner role to include collateral activities. Leaders show their true worth in tough times. Focus on your core function as the safety pro, and embrace the roles of stabilizer, and broad-band supporter of the business. With your unique skill set, you can survive these tough times, and help your organization do so.

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