05 Jun Do you dwell upon safety management too much?
Ask any employee at any level in any organisation whether or not they want to get hurt or see someone else get hurt, and they’ll say no. It’s a rare aspect of work that we can all agree on, plus it’s such an easy and obvious message to sell our jobs should be easy.
So why does that improved safety performance that we all seek turn out to be so elusive?
There’s too much emphasis on safety management and not enough safety leadership
Safety management is important: policies, procedures, rules, risk assessments, inspections and audits. These all form a solid foundation and without them securely in place any successful performance is on shaky ground and prone to failure.
Yet safety management led cultures mean people only choose the right behaviour because it’s expected of them. The system tells them to do it in a particular way and they know they may get in trouble if they don’t do it that way.
Conversely, what a culture with strong safety leadership will give you is a workforce who choose the right behaviour because they believe it’s the right thing to do; and staff behave safely because they want to.
Such a culture puts heavy emphasis on the essential elements of all good leadership:
- Quality engagement
- Feedback and encouragement
- Listening and involvement
- Vision and direction
Because most, if not all, incidents are caused by somebody’s behaviour and behaviours result from the prevailing culture then it is there that we must concentrate our efforts – with strong, influential leadership.
I’ll say it again: there’s too much focus on systems and insufficient, genuine interest in people
Let’s be honest, the traditional perception of health and safety in the workplace is one of rules and regulations, check-lists and clipboards. It’s all a bit negative and miserable. Do you know many people who genuinely look forward with enthusiasm to the next safety briefing or training day?
What’s our part in these perceptions?
As a profession we can wring our hands and complain about everything being unfair, or we can initiate the change ourselves.
We must accept our responsibility and shift our focus from systems and management to embracing the importance of behaviour, culture and leadership. That means a willingness to tackle head-on the more difficult and ethereal issues concerned with attitudes, values and beliefs.
It might not be easy to give up the comfort blanket of our established practices but it’s time to grow-up and look at things from a different perspective. Ultimately this will help everyone achieve what we’re all working towards, as individuals, organisations and as a profession.