How to be a change agent
Seek lasting change, not singular event changes
Review the risk management flow process in ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management and Guidelines. The standard’s risk treatment may be viewed as the change. Let’s go through an example:
The safety pro identifies a machine that may contribute to an injury. An analysis finds that pinch points are accessible. An evaluation finds that OSHA requires guards at the pinch points. For risk treatment, the safety pro specifies a fixed guard with redundant controls i.e. light curtain. The guards and light curtain are installed. Has effective change happened?
In the singular event above change occurred. The reality is that safety pros go through this similar process with a variety of risks over and over again. But is this really the change that most safety pros seek? Ideally, safety pros would like people at risk of injury or illness to understand the risk assessment and risk treatment process and, with supervisory support, effect change themselves. Most safety pros should seek broad and lasting change, not numerous singular event changes.
The problem is that our schooling, initial jobs and credentials such as CSP and CIH focus our actions at risk assessment. Only later in our careers do we realize that to truly effect lasting change we must work outside the risk assessment box and effect change through risk context.
Context of change
ISO 31000 describes risk context to include the value, attitudes, and beliefs of stakeholders, regulations, trends, etc. — anything that can influence a particular risk, which in turn helps effect change.
Stakeholders for safety risk include job applicants, new employees, seasoned employees, HR, supervision, collective-bargaining representation, business owners, customers, OSHA, and even family and friends of employees and others. All have values, attitudes, and beliefs regarding safety that must be considered. Additional context may be OSHA trends for fines for various safety violations or customer and competition expectation of facility operation, production, quality control, delivery, and service. Being able to get money for safety improvements is always a risk context that must be considered.
Know the business
Everybody must do what their boss wants them to do. This context flows downhill. Owners react to customer demand and expectations. The plant manager works to meet the expectation of the business owners. Supervisors and other job functions support the plant manager’s needs. The safety pro reports to someone. Understand expectations at the top of the hill and the better you will be able to bring about lasting change.
Pros should learn to spend time to thoroughly understand the business they serve. Every safety pro should know not only how parts are made or how services are provided, but why is the company in business? Who are customers and competitors? How is the business valued? Assess the business deeper than a stock advisor. A safety pro should generally know how each job in the company is performed from the CEO down to an entry level job.
You must be an extrovert to accomplish this. If you say, “I want to know all I can about the company to be better able to prevent employee injury and illness,” there will be very few people who will object. The closer you get to the top, the more you might find information is confidential. Trust with information must be earned. And once earned, more information is likely to flow your way.
Know your boss
Know your boss extremely well, warts and all. The actions of your boss will decide if you make lasting change. You would expect your boss thoroughly understands the business, but this is not always the case. Some bosses are myopic and only work to serve the needs of their immediate boss. Look beyond “the boss” for the context that drives your business. Never undermine what the boss wants to accomplish – whether near or far sighted.
Prep for change
The best way to prep for change is anticipate change. It is surely going to happen. The more you listen and learn about your company, inside and out, the better you will see change coming. If change is probable, share the information with trusted supporters within the company. Change will most likely affect their job, too. Almost always share expectation of change with your immediate boss. The only time to withhold information from your boss is when a trusted source above your boss says, “Don’t tell anyone else.” Prep for change should be done using the strategy of ISO 31000, risk management. “How will the change impact objectives?” This can be accomplished by group involvement or by the safety pro alone.
Lasting change is demonstrated through written policy and procedure. Policy is where the business wants to go (a destination) and procedures are the map to lead to the destination. Owners will provide the destination for the business. The CEO and all others within the business, including the safety pro, will develop a map and follow it to reach the destination.
Safety pros may be kept busy and have a career in risk assessment that leads to singular, recurring event change such as working to install machine guards. But lasting change comes from knowing and applying the context of your business. Give equal time to understanding risk context as you give to risk assessment skills.