April 12, 2021
This week’s blog post might be a little off-beat and not a topic you usually hear from Safety Professionals, but I am going to go for it anyway. We’re going to talk about one of what I consider a key principle of safety: Inconveniencing the Right People.
Inconveniencing the right people? What, now? Ok, I get it. At first it sounds weird. Maybe another way of putting it is making sure the right people bear the consequences of their actions or their lack of actions.
Will it really work? Is it that simple?
This line of thought occurred to me many years ago when I was hired on at a heavy industrial project that needed help because it was struggling on the safety front. About a week or two in, a Superintendent brought in a young apprentice to my office. He informed me that the young man had hurt himself lifting something, and advised me to give him a shout when he was off light duties so he could return him to his regular job.
At the time, with this employer, when someone was injured on the job, the safety team did the investigation, looked after doctor visits, and arranged modified work for the employee. The safety team would then follow up with the worker and look after medical arrangements until they were ready to return to regular duties.
It was clear what was happening. After an injury, the Safety Team did all the work and the follow up to get the employee back on the job. The supervisor responsible for the worker simply went back to his regular day and nothing changed for him. The supervisor was not inconvenienced by the safety incident at all!
So, I recommended immediate changes. We put the responsibility for investigating injuries with the supervisor and had them actively involved in modified work placement. In other words, we made safety incidents cost the supervisor time and inconvenience. If a supervisor, who has a heavy workload and limited time to get everything done, has to spend time on safety incidents, you can be sure they will take the time to prevent them. At the very least, a talk with the crews to say, “You would not believe how much work a safety incident creates; let’s not do that again.” We very quickly saw a change in attitudes and a reduction in incidents. This resulted in winning an award at the end of the project.
Don’t all company manuals say safety is a supervisory responsibility?
Unfortunately, what it says in the manual is not always the way it is carried out in the field. Although most organizations understand that prevention of incident and investigation is the responsibility of the supervisor, it is still regulated to the safety group. This even occurs in organizations where the safety management systems specifically assign this function to supervision; old habits are hard to break, I guess. Companies with the best safety records always have supervisors investigate their incidents. The best ones schedule a follow up meeting where the supervisor explains the incident and its findings to upper management.
How do we make this change?
Start slowly. Explain the change in policy first. The next time you have an incident and investigation, be sure to have at least the supervisor sit down with you and participate in the whole process. Over time, you will find they will become more confident and will take over and own the process. If you want to have a successful safety program, start by … inconveniencing the right people.