The following is a dramatization of a call for help and the ensuing responses posted on the EHSQ Elite Linkedin Group. I’ve edited the comments into a story form to bring out commonalities in this professional’s predicament I’m sure you can relate to.

Helen (not her real name) has just finished implementing an intensive training program two months ago. It’s still in its infancy, she says, and it’s too early to see results. But that doesn’t stop her management, which dropped big bucks on this program, from asking: “What’s up? When are we going to see the drop in injury rates?”

This makes Helen uneasy. As she says, “Our injury rate is actually on the rise due to lack of awareness or failure to follow procedures.” This has resulted in lifting injuries, knife cuts, and trips and falls down stairs. The awareness training program was supposed to address these problems, but management is getting impatient after only two months. “What are you going to do about it?” managers grill her.

She’s trying all sorts of things, actually. “We have a safety incentive program, monthly safety meetings with the entire company, strong lockout-tagout and behavior-based safety programs, full-day new hire safety orientation, a monthly safety news article in the company newsletter, a monthly ‘Safety Smarts Challenge’ word search or crossword puzzle that I create, a safety suggestion program, a strong near-miss reporting program, three safety committees, a safety steering committee and on and on and on.”

Helen is at her wits end. “I’m at a loss for what else can be done. We have more than enough meetings, committees and games. I’m the only dedicated safety staff person in a company of 675. My time is at a premium. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m naïve, I don’t know. But I do know I need help. I’m crashing and burning. Help!”

A dozen suggestions

Safety and health pros, by nature an empathetic and sharing group, responded to Helen’s delimma with many suggestions. I’ve itemized them here for easier tracking.

1 — “I’ve been where you are, tried what you’ve tried. Building the safety management system foundational elements usually takes 18-24 months. In my experience, every incident indicates failure somewhere in our system and requires root cause determination with contributing factors (at least two) and corrective actions tracked to completion. Second, go back to the basics. My first ‘program’ would be general safety rule promotion and auditing/inspection.”

2 — “I feel your pain. Safety culture is the easiest to build from the top down, not from within. It seems your management supports you, but is not active in any of the programs you described. Managers should never pass by unsafe behaviour, including not following (safety) procedures. Managers must also go regularly to the shop floor and discuss safety with employees. Train your managers to give positive feedback. Require all managers to keep safety talks regularly.”

3 — “Don’t run too many programs at the same time. Drop some of the less important efforts.”

4 — “Don’t allow your managers to view your training initiative as just another stab at safety problems, a flavor of the month program.”

5 — “A shotgun approach like you have now, trying to touch on just about every aspect of safety, will not show near-term results. You need to drill down on what is causing the experience and focus on those specific drivers.”

6 — “Drop below the supervisors and start getting more personal with the labor force. Try something like holding meetings and introduce Pat the Packer, or something similar pertinent to your positions. Show them how Pat is a terrific worker, but he or she has had a few problems. Go over the injuries that you have experienced in this particular job. Emphasize the pain it has caused ‘Pat’ and his family. And importantly, emphasize the cost to the company. Show them the impact of injuries to the bottom, line, and how it has affected the company during this recession. But speak directly to the floor workers.”

7 — “ I suspect that if management is asking what you are going to do about your failing safety program, they are laboring under the misunderstanding that health and safety is YOUR responsibility and not theirs. I suspect that you are the one who walks around each day and sees infringements of safety procedures and malpractices and attempts to correct them. This is what the supervisors and managers should be doing every day on a continual basis but again, I suspect that they think that this is your job and not theirs.”

8 — “Senior Management is supposed to LEAD, and you implement. If they will not lead safety then you cannot succeed in implementing it.”

9 — “Introduce Toolbox Talks (or Safety Huddles as you guys in the U.S. say). Successfully introduced, these can be very effective for increasing hazard recognition and response.”

10 — “Who is on your main health and safety committee? I was chairman as EHS manager and our managing director took the minutes of the meeting. Our plant manager was also present. Commitment at a high level is so important.”

11 — “We have had success here using safety as a quality assurance function. Since you are in the food industry, your QA should have some strong influence and that could help provide a vehicle to raise awareness.”

12 — “Safety colleagues are not hesitant about sharing success stories.Participate in your industry’s organizations where members do both formal and informal benchmarking for safety issues. It’s amazing what you can pick up. Discovering that you’re not alone in being swamped also helps.”