Changing a culture from “That’s a safety department issue” to “This is an organizational issue that would benefit from safety department involvement” has taken much more time than I previously considered. Oh, perhaps it would be three years before our airport transit system fully realized a manifested change in attitude, behavior and activity I thought, some time ago.

I believe that a corner — no, not “A corner,” but rather “THE corner” — has been turned, much to the employees’ benefit and my appreciation. It’s taken approximately ten years to institutionalize this culture. That’s not to say the change is complete, but I’m confident now the present culture of safety will not return to how it was in any kind of sudden reverse turn.

Community effort
We began with a “Statement of Commitment” and an outline of responsibilities. Note the emphasis on “we” and “our” throughout our culture change journey.

Our mission statement included these words: “We are committed to providing safe and healthful transportation services to our patrons, and a safe and healthful work environment for our employees, visitors, vendors and contractors. Our ultimate goal is ZERO loss incidents.”

Defining responsibilities
For a team, no matter what its size, to function effectively and achieve its goals, all the players must know and execute their roles. Our team, really our entire culture change endeavor, was made up of every employee, supervisor and manager.

First, we stressed personal, co-worker, passenger and public safety must be the FIRST consideration in the performance of all activities. Employees are personally responsible for their own safety, and have an obligation for the safety of co-workers, passengers and the public.

Then we set out the “Safest Course of Action” to fulfill this obligation. This roadmap or “playbook” for all of our culture change “players” put the emphasis on action items, of which I’ll cite just a few:

»Be alert and attentive when performing assigned duties, and plan work to avoid personal injury or injury to others; verify work assignments and procedures before beginning work.

»When in doubt, request clarification from a knowledgeable source prior to proceeding.

»Do not operate vehicles, equipment or power tools until familiarization, training and/or authorization to operate have been completed.

»Cut the supply of traction power in any real or suspected emergency involving a threat to the safety of any person or the potential of damage to equipment.

»Stop all activities in the event that unsafe conditions and/or behaviors have the potential of compromising personal safety, or the safety of co-workers, contractors, passengers, equipment, the public or the environment.

»Report any unsafe practices noted within the Standard Operating Procedures, Bulletin Orders, Special Instructions and/or Safety Rules applicable to your job position, work duties and activities, and temporary assignments involving these procedures to your immediate supervisor.

»Immediately report any condition or behavior that could be responsible for injury or property damage or that could disrupt normal operations, regardless of your direct or indirect involvement in the area or activity to your immediate supervisor.

»When working in a team, coordination and communication are essential for personal and team safety. Be certain that all team members are briefed on the jobs to be performed; understand the work that will be done; and know how to perform the work safely.

We defined more than a dozen supervisory responsibilities for conditions and behaviors that could affect the safety of departmental employees. Among our expectations:

»Develop safety instructions for every job, and instruct all supervised personnel in the safe work practices and methods at the time assignments are made.

»Ensure that employees comply with all applicable rules and safety instructions.

»Inform employees of any unusual hazards before starting work.

»Initially, and when possible thereafter, personally and continuously supervise work that involves unusual hazards.

»Detect and correct unsafe behaviors and conditions that could affect system safety. Report all such detection and correction activities to the department manager and the safety department.

»Follow good housekeeping practices by insisting on clean work areas and an orderly arrangement of tools, equipment, materials, storage facilities and supplies.

»Coach and counsel employees who exhibit a need to increase their knowledge of safe behavior.

»Ensure each loss incident is promptly and fully investigated and reported, taking corrective action as needed. Paperwork requirements of loss incident reporting are to be borne primarily by the supervisor; the injured employee will complete and/or sign a statement relating to the incident, but shall not personally complete any other portion of the reporting form(s).

»Schedule and conduct regular safety meetings with employees and follow up on their suggestions.

A final word regarding management’s role: In our culture change effort, managers are responsible for ensuring all employees and supervisors within their departments are provided the support, time, education and training, tools, equipment and materials necessary to fulfill their safety-related responsibilities. All are essential for turning the corner with culture change, and getting the most out of safety teams.