Safety teams can have a major impact on the workplace. They help identify and correct hazards in the most timely and effective manner while focusing every segment of the organization on safety. The safety team is actually a sub-team of a much larger team — the facility team — which is the entire facility population. These teams need to work together to develop a concept we will call “TeamSwork.” No, this is not a typo; just a new word for “teams” can “work” in tandem.

Your safety team

Do you have a safety team? If you do, does your employee population know it? Do they know the members? Do they know what the team does and when they meet? If you answered “No” to the last three questions, then your answer to the first question is essentially “No.” In surveys with our client base, approximately 90 percent reveal that most of the population of the facility has little or no knowledge of their safety team members, meetings, goals or accomplishments.

While research supports that teams are better at solving problems and learn faster than individuals, developing a successful team is not an easy task, and the challenges should not be underestimated. Although many companies realize the value of teams, there are obstacles that can stand in the way of team success. The two largest are a lack of training in group dynamics and a long-standing emphasis on individual performance vs. group success. Because many work environments focus on individual goals and rewards, individuals are often more comfortable working on their own than in a group. Team membership selection is therefore critical; team members must want to be a part of a group.

Key elements for success

Before creating the safety team, management needs to let the workforce know that the team is being formed (or re-formed) and must clearly state the team’s goals, responsibilities and required tasks. The work population should be made aware of the safety team’s composition and should understand that the team will be working toward improving the safety of all. They should further understand that they can expect the team’s activities to be communicated on a regular basis.

The recommended composition of a safety team is 60 percent hourly/primary employees and 40 percent management/supervision. If the facility is union-based, union representation is a must. It is advisable to select representatives from all departments and shifts. Try asking for volunteers, and if this fails, have each department pick their representative. The most important factor is having the entire work population represented. The key elements to TeamSwork are:
  • Take time to train the team. As in physical training, time is more important than intensity. Providing on-going training as opposed to a one-shot training session is more sustaining. Training should address not only safety issues but topics such as “how to hold a meeting,” “conflict management,” “personality styles,” etc.
  • Evaluate the facility safety culture. A cultural survey utilizing a sizable sample offers the opportunity to evaluate obstacles and to measure trust, perception of work conditions, safe practices and much more. It also makes it possible to gather constructive suggestions and solutions and to identify informal leaders.
  • Attain a plan and work the plan. The team’s objectives must be determined in clear, measurable and achievable terms. At the onset, the team should identify obstacles as well as past successes and failures and evaluate the available resources. The team must determine methods of overcoming obstacles, and the plan must then be performed as determined and communicated to the entire workforce. Everyone on the team should know the part they play in the plan, and no one individual or sub-group should be assigned too many tasks. Follow-up procedures should be in place to routinely evaluate performance and revise accordingly. This step is often skipped due to a reluctance to discuss mistakes, but reviewing failures as well as successes will help in accomplishing the safety goals of the facility.
  • Management commitment is critical. You can have the best people on the team, but if management does not support or provide resources, success will be very limited.
  • Structure the team to include the following positions:
    • The team leader (emphasis is on the word “leader”) makes sure meetings happen, gets the meeting started, ensures that the agenda is adhered to, and sees to it that all communications to the plant population occur. This person is not the “ruler” or “go-fer.”
    • The backup leader fills in for the team leader for vacations, illness and scheduling conflicts. (In fact, all positions should have backups.)
    • The recorder communicates the team’s efforts, captures what is accomplished in the meetings, and prepares formal minutes to be shared with the entire workforce.
    • The flip-chart facilitator aids the recorder by writing down decisions, assignments, etc., so everyone in the meeting is on the same page.
    • A coach from management is essential to securing the resources needed to complete the team’s objectives.
    • Sub-teams should be developed as needed to handle various projects and assignments.
  • Worker input is solicited. Input from the entire population is important for safety teams. Who knows better than those in the work environment what areas of safety can be improved? There is no learning without feedback.
  • Organize a communication flow. Keeping the entire facility team informed is a huge responsibility of the safety team. Workers, including management and supervision, want to know what is planned and what is happening “now.”
  • Recognize the team’s efforts. Positive reinforcement and recognition is the biggest driver in excellent performance. By recognizing the work of the safety team, you enhance team cohesiveness and success.
  • Know that “burn-out” does happen. Because very few people can sustain enthusiasm and performance on a team for long durations, backups for team membership should be continually solicited. Not only does this help maintain a good working size team, but it also provides fresh new ideas and enthusiasm. Team member rotation is healthy.

A thought to remember…The success of the safety team depends on the involvement of the whole “facility team,” in other words, the entire workplace population.