Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting Safety Right – There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

Blood on the floor. A grimace... a scream. It gets everyone’s attention and it generates all sorts of emotion and response as a result at all levels and extremes.

The key challenge for all organisations in implementing safety at the level of its effect is to make it proactively-based, which is both opposed to and attending to reactivity.

And why do we do it? For no other reason than because we acknowledge the people we work with are very technically competent—but we also know everyone makes mistakes.

Confidence appears to be a key. When people are confident to challenge the status quo in any organisation they act in an empowered way. They intervene when their safety antennae are stimulated; they exercise personal courage, and in this they’re rewarded. The smart company puts processes in place that prove these employees are listened to.

These employees are prepared to ask people:

‘What are you doing?’

This is generally followed by a second question:

‘How could you get hurt doing that?’

And the logical third question, often requiring most courage, is:

‘What can you do about preventing getting hurt?’

We must stimulate a sense of “healthy paranoia” in people regarding risk so they never become complacent and normalise risk. “Damaging energies” are ever present and we only need to read the newspapers or watch the TV News to understand the power of these energies when we get into harm’s way.

Organisationally, there are five areas of foci that present the biggest bang for our buck regarding safety returns:

1. Solid, unwavering management commitment at the highest level (and the perception of same at the lowest level and every level between).

2. Good safety systems which don’t present, and actively remove, barriers to safe working.

3. Teams functioning cooperatively i.e. high-reliability teams.

4. Supervisor commitment – often safety process improvement leaves the supervisor behind, disengaging them; they who are one of the most important players in getting safety working!

5. A perception shared by all, especially those doing the high risk tasks, that safety is more important than production--whether you call it “safe production” or “safety before production” doesn’t really matter.

What drives worker behaviour when push comes to shove is what matters.

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