Safety Should and Can be Invisible

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By Art Liski
Safety Strategy & Training Specialist

How can safety be invisible yet applicable in today’s work environment? The fact of the matter is that operational safety is and must be considered as a paramount business objective. Having said that as policy, how can an organization effectively achieve that goal? The answer is simple. Create a safety program that is so entrenched within the organization that it becomes transparent. When that is achieved, the objective is complete.

In most companies, safety is managed by the safety department, a stand alone person or group assigned to administer policy with performance measured by accident numbers, ratios and trends. This practice leads to pointing accountability away from the source of the problem and directly onto the shoulders of the H&S Department.In these cases the Health and Safety Department soon becomes overwhelmed in their attempts to correct and control using their usually very limited authority. This environment tends to point blame for failure directly within a Safety Department itself that soon promotes a negative culture.

Using this approach, a Safety Department quite quickly becomes a “dumping ground” for all operational problems and the undesired events and conditions that exist. The misconception that safety can be effectively managed by establishing a separate department within the company is prevalent within many organizations and leads to a failed safety system where executives, managers, and employees all rely on the staff Safety Professional to correct and control all situations, which is impossible and ineffective. It is important to note that all safety functions must be domiciled in the company’s Human Resources department, not in a stand alone kiosk.

How is Safety performed in a visible way today?

Traditional safety programs today are by nature promoted to be front and center with safety proclaimed in policy as being paramount. The problem here is that management does not know what safety is, they claim it is paramount but have no idea what it is. This leads to the ill practice and use of safety slogans, displaying safety posters, and providing employees with a monetary safety bonus reward. Visible safety programs can be quite well organized using several of the key elements thought to be required in today’s safety systems such as Policies, Procedures, Regulations, Training, Inspections, Emergency Response, and Accident Investigation. These elements are very visible with their intense documentation that is required both by legislation and audit.

The documentation/administration for the Safety program is the responsibility of the Safety Department which must create a complex safety filing cabinet. The focus soon becomes continued file maintenance for the program providing visible and auditable evidence that the company’s safety program is alive and well. The requirement for administration remains the same whether working in a visible or invisible safety system. In the invisible system, the documents are completed at the source of the work and are administered as per the individual company’s filing management system. Administration and auditing protocol remain, however what gets audited changes.

Barriers to Invisibility

The theory is based on the need for a timely redefinition of the word safety; or at the very least and for a few, clarification of the term. Is the word safety used as a “noun” or is it an “adjective”?  We call protective eye glasses safety glasses and we all go to safety meetings. The word safety quite often is used as an adjective. It describes an item or event. The word safety is never used as a noun. Therefore, it does not exist. It can only provide a description of something that does. The correct use of the term “Safety” for this purpose should only be used as an action verb. It should be defined by each organization as the control of accidental loss. The question then becomes how do organizations develop the necessary controls that will ensure a safe work environment?  Achieving excellence in safety performance requires organizational discipline. Job Descriptions for all levels must exist and each job description must contain specific health and safety responsibilities in accordance with each safety program. The job descriptions must include management standards that are directly related to safety describing in detail what each function must do, when to do it and how.

This then becomes the new auditable portion of the program and the key to Invisible Safety. Auditing of these standards quantifies how safe a company is based on compliance to its own standards. Compliance to company standards will provide the required control of accidental loss and create the state of actually being in a safe environment. The safety related duties that are now spread out throughout the entire organization will soon become entrenched in each employees’ daily, weekly, monthly job tasks along with their existing responsibilities that are already in place. Soon, employees will see that the Safety Program has disappeared and has become invisible because it is now entrenched well within their jobs. Most organizations achieve success managing sales, production, and profit.

Safety must be and can be managed using the same management principles that are being used for the other disciplines. There are no barriers other than the company’s willingness to create and develop the required organizational discipline.

 Want more information on how safety invisibility and greater compliance can happen at your company? Contact APlus Actions today at 587.225.7587.

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