Questioning the Key Pieces of Safety Strategy

Sadly, more corporate safety initiatives are based on history than on strategy. The old adage, “We have always done it this way,” is used to justify existing efforts and hide the need for seeking better methods.

Most organizations continue to manage safety the way they always have until the lagging indicators send them a wake-up call. Then, most respond by finding scapegoats or by adding more effort, rather than thoroughly examining their existing efforts. Thus, flawed or lacking safety strategies are perpetuated indefinitely.

More and more, organizations don’t need to add to their safety efforts, but rather need to strategically improve the quality and effectiveness of their existing efforts. A good way to examine your existing safety strategy is to ask yourself some basic questions:

Basic Question No. 1: Have you created a shared vision of what safety excellence looks like? If you ask any worker at any level to describe the desired state of safety, will you get accurate and similar answers? Is the answer the cliché “lack of accidents,” or does it describe what makes the accidents go away?

Follow-up Questions: Is this the best vision to direct the efforts of your workforce? Is it clear and does it describe the role of each individual? Does it truly direct safety efforts in the desired direction? Can you think of a better vision or better ways to effectively communicate and reinforce it?

Basic Question No. 2: What is the priority or value of safety compared to other priorities? Priorities change, but values do not. Is safety a changeable or unchangeable issue in your organization? Does the perception of safety among managers match the perception by workers? Are workers clear on how to make situational decisions when safety and production compete? Many organizations tell workers they have the right to stop work if they deem it unsafe, but not all workers would do so and not all feel confident they know the real criteria for making such a decision.

Follow-up Questions: Is your communicated priority or value of safety the best one to guide your workers’ decisions in the workplace? Can you think of a better or clearer way to state the importance of safety that will result in better workplace decisions?

Basic Question No. 3: Who manages safety? Is it the member or members of the safety department, or is it the same people who manage production? Does everyone manage safety? To what extent do you expect workers to manage their own personal safety, and what training and resources do you give them to enable them to do so?

Follow-up Questions: Is this the best way to manage safety? If you rely on safety professionals to manage safety, do you have enough of them to do so effectively? Does this form of management create unity of purpose, or does it cause a conflict between safety and production in the minds of workers? Is this the best set of people to manage safety? Could others manage safety more effectively or efficiently? What training would they need to do so?

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