Safety and Health Article Archive

Misconceptions About OSHA

By Bill Taylor, CSP

When a manager sits down for the weekly staff meeting he or she is surrounded by those people with direct control and responsibility for all aspects of the business/department managers. If a problem comes up, say for example, costs are too high, the manager does not turn to the finance manager casting blame and dictate he or she work harder to cut costs. Instead, a good manager, knowing cost overruns can occur anywhere, will try to pinpoint the problem so efforts to resolve the problem can be properly focused. The manager knows that everyone sitting around that table has a responsibility to control costs. Likewise, the manager will tell you that everyone at the table is responsible for managing production, quality, people, etc.

These department managers in turn hold supervisors and employees accountable for the same charge. In other words, everyone has a responsibility for assuring production is met, quality is high, and costs are low because any employee can damage product, affect quality, or run up costs. Therefore, every employee makes up the production, quality and cost organizations.

In this article, we'll talk about how to manage workplace safety and health the same way you manage the rest of your business.

Why is safety different?

Why is it that we manage safety in a different way? First of all, the safety manager is often just a warm body. Or it may be some young employee who was a sewing machine mechanic yesterday. Or perhaps we hired a bonafide safety manager, but we still do not have them at the manager's weekly staff meeting.

We establish teams such as quality teams, to get employees involved in the quality process. We empower employees with the freedom to stop an entire production line if they are aware of a problem affecting production or quality. Because of this increased participation our production is good, quality is up and costs are down. We have sought the participation of a very vital and knowledgeable resource --our employees. But again, we manage safety differently. We do not involve employees in the safety process except maybe to put them on a safety committee or do an inspection. We do not hold employees to the same level of enforcement for earplugs, glasses and lockout as we do punctuality and insubordination.

The Team Approach

We have learned that if we want to improve something for which employees are responsible then we make it an important part of their workday. We put them on a team or committee and give them responsibility. We hold them accountable and recognize their efforts. We recognize them as knowledgeable adults with an ability to contribute to the overall effort. By involving the employees, they develop a greater sense of awareness and ownership. The result is better production, lower cost, etc. This empowerment (involvement) is actually changing the behavior of the workers. We have altered employee attitudes through proper motivation.

Other Motivations

Certainly there are different ways to motivate workers. Workers can be motivated by fear -- fear of losing money and/or their jobs for example. And while fear can be a powerful motivator, it is by no means the preferred method. For one thing, workers should not have to work under a shroud of fear. But also, the fear is usually short-lived. Once they realize they will not be reprimanded for failure to lockout the equipment, many will stop following proper lockout procedures. This is especially true if there is some personal benefit to be gained, such as saving time.

Another method of motivating workers is by desire. Make it desirable for the employee to follow proper procedures. But like fear, the motivation is not long lasting. When something comes along that may prove more desirable to the worker, their priorities will change.

By far the best method of motivation is by belief. If we can get the employee to understand it is in their best interest to follow proper safety procedures, then they are more apt to follow procedures. Employees must understand why it is important to perform in a certain manner and believe it is the right thing to do. Only then can we realize a change in the behavior of individuals that will be long lasting. They are following procedures, not because they are afraid of losing their job, or because they will be given some incentive award. They do it because it is important

The Central Safety and Health Committee Method

The Central Safety and Health Committee/Task Group method of managing safety is a behavioral management system. Developed in 1978, it is still a system as effective as any method available.

The success of the system is based on the fact management recognizes the value of workers, as well as their abilities to get things accomplished. It succeeds because management empowers workers to DO things other than attend a monthly safety committee meeting.

Workers realize that safety, just like production, quality, costs, etc. is also an integral part of their job. Their behavior changes and safety becomes a culture at the work-site.

The Rest of the Battle

While employee involvement is crucial to the success of a safety program, it is only half the battle. A safety and health program will be as good as management wants it to be, or as poor as management will allow it to be. Managers have to enforce safety and make sure that their employees actually follow the procedures that have been established and talked about in their committee meetings.

Employee safety is important to managers. The problem is, we have historically managed safety by assigning responsibilities to an individual as collateral duties, or hiring a safety manager expecting him or her to insure worker safety. We form safety committees to do inspections and come up with ideas, again, expecting them to keep everyone safe. This is not how we manage other issues so why manage safety this way? Why do we not hold department managers, supervisors, and foremen to the same level of responsibility and accountability for insuring safety of workers in their charge as we do assuring good production?

Well, in case you haven't figured out where this is going, it goes straight to behavioral expectations. If I expect my department managers to behave like managers then I expect them to take whatever action is defined by company policy to insure his/ her workers are performing at peak performance. I expect them to insure good production, maximum quality and minimum costs. If they do not meet this expectation then their performance and their behavior is inadequate.

If their employees are violating procedures (unacceptable behavior) and they permit this, that in turn, makes the manager's behavior unacceptable. If an employee fails to properly lockout equipment or wear required hearing protection, then that employee is not doing the job right. And, if the supervisor is aware of this and fails to respond, then the supervisor is not doing his/her job right.

It is not enough to change or attempt to change the behavior of the employee alone. To be successful requires effort on the part of management and labor. It requires everyone doing their jobs right. If employee behavior is substandard then both employee and management behavior must be changed. Because the bottom line is, if you have a safety problem, then you have a management problem.

The many plant managers who have experienced success with the Central Safety and Health Committee management method will tell you they were successful because everyone was expected to make safety part of their job, and safety was to be managed just as everything else -- no differently. Safety, like production and quality, crosses all boundaries into every job, so why manage it in a different way?

But, if a company has a safety program and people are still getting injured, then something is wrong. The problem is usually a lack of enforcement -- unacceptable management behavior.

Management behavior will not change until the ranking manager says so. Until such time as the boss takes control and demands change, it will not happen. Employees will still fail to lock out equipment and supervisors and managers will still permit it because it is faster and speeds production. And people will still get hurt.

Employee behavior, just like anything else, begins at the top. If managers expect good safety behavior, they must change their own behavior first.

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