Just like the T.V. show Pros vs Joes, there is a line a mile long of Joes trying to compete with the Pros.
In the safety business, all “Safety Pros” start out as “Safety Joes” and it’s essential that a company understands that it takes time, and more often than not, years to transform a “Safety Joe” into a “Safety Pro” whom can relate and effectively communicate with field supervisors and workers.
Hiring the Right Joe
In this article, I offer a few suggestions before hiring the college educated safety graduate who lacks hands-on construction experience with your company.
1. Will he/she fit in with your company’s managers and field supervisors? 2. Input on Hiring from field people whom are going to work with this person pays big dividends? 3. Specific Communication Skills? Can this individual orally communicate effectively to construction workers? Sometimes in a very challenging environment. Can he/she communicate “with” workers and not “at” them? (If not, it takes many mouths to develop this skill). 4. Oral Communication is one of the most important skills a “Safety Joe” must have. He/she should demonstrate almost immediately good vocal projection, proper body language and speaking with the end in mind, if a company wants to get a “BANG FOR YOUR SAFETY BUCK”. As you’re well aware, Safety Joe’s are not cheap. 5. Trustworthiness is the Holy Grail for a “Safety Pro”, but for a “New Safety Joe” it can be the telling stat for a smooth and effective working relationship with field personal in the shortest amount of time.
In my 15 years of commercial construction field experience and 8 years as director of safety and training for a large commercial drywall, lath and plaster company, I’ve learned many skills, but none as important as trustworthiness. In many professional circles, the word “trustworthy” might mean that a person is honest and has the trust of people around him or her. Although this is a fair assumption, it is not entirely correct. Take a medical professional in any field. He or she could be very honest with a high degree of trust because the billings are always accurate and fair, but technically he/she is lacking and works from old methods, therefore is not worthy. Conversely, a medical professional could be very worthy because of his technically skill and have the best equipment and training but has a very low trust level because you’re constantly finding chargers on the bill that he didn’t do.
Trustworthiness is both trust and competence and can be the most important personal trait a “Safety Joe” can have. Field people by nature are very hard working individuals with varying trust levels for people they work with, but if they see incompetence, duplicity or simply someone not giving credit where credit is due, watch out….that new Safety Joe you just hired will be working on a island and have a tough time getting support from the very people he/she is trying help.
Specific Construction Knowledge
For starters, lets look at a few skills/traits a new Safety Joe will need to win the trust of workers and develop a safety first mentality, and a college safety degree is not necessarily one of them. First and foremost, an understanding of construction operations is paramount, knowing how a building is put together and in what sequence is necessary to facilitate and accurately foresee training, methods and equipment needs. I’ve seen many Safety Joe’s wait until the operation starts and then question the safety equipment and methods crew’s use. This type safety policing are exactly what gets field workers and supervision frustrated with a “Safety Joe”. Individual unsafe acts do accrue during construction operations and must be corrected but changing equipment and methods after operations start should be avoided. Tainted relationships, creditability problems and safety compliance with a bad attitude are undesirable consequences if a Safety Joe fails to look ahead and pre-plan appropriate safety equipment, methods and training. Safety Joe’s must understand that if he/she doesn’t know the work sequence or how a section is being built then he/she must asks questions and get feedback days before work starts from the men that do.
It’s sometimes difficult for a supervisor to send men home or stop work to satisfy a Safety Joe recommendation for different safety equipment or a change in methods of an operation that’s already started.
This is where oral communication skills and maybe more importantly, speaking style is the telling stat for a new Safety Joe. A good Safety Joe will pick the right time and place to talk to foremen to get the answers on sequencing or building methods so he/she can make sound recommendations if necessary, before work starts.
Too many big words or reading safety regulations to foremen and superintendents as work is being performed is not effective operating procedure. The challenge is to find and develop a Safety Joe that can consistently anticipate safety problems, and not react to them.
Every construction company needs to make money to stay in business and a good Safety Joe can help in the process by knowing these 7 words: Anticipate safety problems, don’t react to them.
OK, now that we talked about a Safety Joe’s understanding of basic construction operations, let’s make sure he/she can deliver an oral safety meeting effectively in a challenging environment. This can only be accomplished by witnessing him/her in action. Relating the job site real world situations into the safety topics is what the workers will remember.
“Safety Joes” must have the ability to project their voice so they can be heard and must know whom they are speaking to, not necessary name by name basis, but shaking hands, introducing yourself and asking the workers for their input before the safety meeting pays big dividends in the pursuit to get all workers to work safe all day, everyday. Every safety professional should work and teach by these great words by Don Swartz “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
“Safety Joe’s” should also do their best work in the field not in the office. Since field supervisors are the front line of safety then the field supervisors deserve a competent “Safety Joe” they can trust and count on to come up with workable solutions that’s a win-win for the men’s safety and the company’s goals. Any educated safety graduate can police and enforce a company’s safety policy, but, to be effective and efficient it takes proactive communication and trustworthiness to become a “Safety Pro”.
General education like math, English and computer skills are important for starters. But more importantly; common sense, construction experience, communication skills both verbal and written, organizational skills, and people skills should also be on high on the list.
Ok, so far we covered Hiring the Right Joe, Trustworthiness, Specific Construction Knowledge, Communication and Basic Skills, I feel I must share one other item that was a huge help to me on my promotion into the safety field. The book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey was my direct line to my company’s vacant safety position. The understanding that my success and growth depends on identifying and repairing my personal weaknesses first and not everyone else was the stepping stone that my company noticed in the beginning.
Secondly, I started changing the way I was thinking months before the position was ever offered. Third, when the position was available, my company recognized that what I’d changed into was exactly the direction the company wanted to go.
Unknowingly and by the grace of God, I had prepared myself for a very rewarding career in the field of helping people and saving lives. Sometimes it’s not your knowledge or your skills, it’s simply, who you are that matters.