Leadership, People and Action: The Fundamentals of a Sound Safety Culture
by Jeffrey A. Spatz, CHST, Senior Safety Consultant
Ancient Greek historian Thucydides is credited with the statement: “He is best who is trained in the severest school.” For us present-day folks, that translates roughly to: “Hard times breed tough people.” With the construction industry bearing the brunt of the slow-to-recover economy, we could all agree there have been some tough times for sure, but hopefully such times are now in the rearview mirror.
Has the industry become better through it all? Are we poised to exit the tough run in the pole position, battlehardened and ready to take the prize? Or have we allowed ourselves to whimper and take the last few positions available, all the while making excuses for our last-place status? These are the times when leaders are made. These are the times when leaders are desperately neededleaders trained in the severest of schools. So when I’m asked the question, “What are the basics of a sound safety culture?”. My immediate response is “Leadership.”
Quite simply, safety does indeed start at the top. Leadership is more than just management—good leadership refers to how a person influences and motivates others. If the leadership is disinterested in or distracted from the importance of a sound safety culture, the idea is likely doomed from the start. Since people tend to emulate the leaders they respect and admire, it is the leader’s job to set the tone. In today’s construction industry, margins are slimmer than ever, contractors are hungrier than ever and it can be easy to take desperate measures. But strong leaders understand that safety must prevail no matter the situation. Excuses for acting otherwise are just that: excuses. True leaders choose action over excuses and inspire others to do the same.
As important as strong leadership is, so is the role of the employees who carry out the daily duties and front-line eorts. Motivated, enthusiastic and inquisitive employees who recognize and value good leadership are necessary components of a sound safety culture. One of my mentors is fond of saying, “People don’t do what you say; they do what you do.” Having the right people in place will result in a culture that inspires as it is inspired.
Once the leaders are committed and the right people are in place, it’s time to act. As the industry and economy continue to rebound, there can be no sideline spectators if we’re going to thrive. To act, there needs to be a plan—a well-written safety program that is a living document and not one relegated to a dusty life on a shelf. Coupled with strong leaders and the right people, a safety program that is known, understood, and implemented by all personnel—both management and front-line employees—will produce positive results and a sound safety culture.
ENABLE POSITIVE INFLUENCE:
5 Management Techniques
- Coaching: Supervisors need to develop a non-threatening coaching method that reinforces rules and processes. Consider a mandatory Safety Huddle every morning, at every site to discuss the general hazards – this is a key component of educating and empowering employees about safety. In my experience it is best to share this responsibility; sometime a site coordinator may lead the huddle and sometimes it may be a new laborer. Sharing the responsibility further helps cultivate Safety Leaders from the ground-up.
- Problem Solving: Seek the input of other people. Solicit feedback from co-workers, survey the feedback and brainstorm for solutions.
- Measuring: Apply a proactive approach to measurement. Lagging indicators such as injury rates or the number of previous OSHA citations are considered reactive. Try measuring leading indicators such as compliant safety observations, completion of self-inspection reports, completion of pre-task plans, etc.
- Relating: A successful leader is able to form bonds with fellow employees by discussing similar situations they have worked through and give advice based on experience.
- Enforcing: Enforcing rules is made much easier when everyone operates under the umbrella of accountability. Try these techniques when handing out discipline:
- Give positive with negative – general rule of thumb is to give four positive comments for every one negative comment.
- Explain the exact consequences of
- Specify the desired behavior or method to assure future compliance.
- If necessary, schedule a safety training for the desired behavior.
- Allow the employee to discuss barriers to compliance.
- End by assuring the employee’s future success in compliance.
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