Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Getting Everyone Involved In Managing Safety
Managing Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility
It should go without saying that safety is everyone’s responsibility. But, it oftentimes needs saying. Managing safety in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility. However, how that actually is accomplished in a given workplace can vary. Often, there is a member of management that has the primary role for managing safety. They may also have other related responsibilities such as managing the environmental requirements of a company, sustainability efforts, or health related requirements.
You can think of such a person as the spearhead of a spear. They are the “point” person for all things safety. Does someone need to be trained? That’s your safety person. Are detailed compliance inspections and audits of a workplace needed? Your workplace safety person is the likely person for the job. Need a safe operating procedure? You guessed it. That’s the safety person.
The general workforce, including managers that don’t have primary responsibility for managing safety, actually manage safety to a degree all the time. Every time a mobile equipment operator operates in a deliberate manner that minimizes the likelihood of injury to people or damage to property, that’s managing safety. When a supervisor inspects their work area to make sure it’s clean and free of clutter, that’s also managing safety. The importance of the general workforce managing safety can become crystal clear anytime there is an accident. Many accidents are the result of a company failing to adequately manage their safety needs in one way or another.
The “Captain Safety” Perception
Some employees have the perception that the responsibility of safety comes down to the safety manager, coordinator, or whomever has primary responsibility for managing safety in a given workplace. This can be so strong that when they are asked why something safety related wasn’t done, they say something akin to ” that’s the safety person’s job”. That kind of thinking is similar to having some kind of superhero persona attached to the safety person. These employees seemingly expect the safety person to swoop in and slap their hands out of the way when they’re doing something that could get it cut off, or at any other time where they may be taking a potentially dangerous risk.
However, if you stop to think about it, that doesn’t make sense. Is the safety person the all-seeing eye of legend detailed in some myths or stories? Do they have a sort of safety sense or perception telling them when someone is about to do something stupid? Sure, they may have experience and intuition, but if they do show up to literally stop you from doing something unsafe, before you actually do it, there probably is a lot of luck to that as well. With all of that said, employees doing the work literally have skin in the game.
Is it usually the safety person getting hurt if someone decides to take a shortcut and bypass a machine guard while the machine is running? Do they get burned by the welding sparks or slag when maintenance is doing a repair without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)? Are they the ones usually getting their backs hurt by lifting heavy items when they use improper lifting techniques? The answer is usually no. It’s often the employees performing the work improperly that get hurt. Or, if they are mobile equipment operators, they may be hurting others or damaging equipment. With so much potential for damage or harm within the direct control of the employees, managing safety has to be considered at least a part of their jobs.
Earlier, it was said that the safety person could be akin to the spearhead of a spear. But, a spear isn’t just the spearhead is it? One thing that makes the spear more useful than just taking the spearhead and refashioning it into some knife or similar, is that when attached to a pole, it gives reach. This helps the spear to have advantages over shorter weapons. Likewise, the relationship between a company and safety needs to be similar. The safety person acting on their own could be thought of as someone trying to use a spearhead without the pole shaft. It doesn’t reach as far and it isn’t nearly as effective as it is meant to be.
Depending on the safety person, they may know a lot about compliance and general safety, but that doesn’t mean they understand how specific processes work. They will need the various employees, such as maintenance techs and operators, to help them understand the process. In contrast, the safety person will have to temper all the ways that the employees may try to tackle a problem against the requirements for safety in regulations and practicality. This is where the general workforce usually isn’t as knowledgeable. There is also the consideration that the safety person often doesn’t control the budget of the company. They may have some control of a budget if they’re the head of their department, but where they can normally spend can be fairly limited. That means they need to get higher level management to understand what is needed so that applicable funds and resources can be allocated.
Properly executed, the collaboration between the safety person, general employees, and management yields compliant and effective solutions to problems relating to safety. When people realize that safety is their responsibility, at least in part, it can wake them up to all the unneeded risk they were taking. It can also help employees voice their concerns, needs, and suggestions when they know that they will be listened to, and their input seriously considered. When management realizes that there are problems that they didn’t see, they can be more apt to allocate needed resources. This can even be applied to management philosophies. For instance, changing from an employee behavior focus to a safety by design focus can make processes inherently safe. This allows employees to be safe just by doing their jobs instead of having yet more requirements being placed on them via training, PPE, and the like. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t valid instances where it makes sense to change employee behavior. But, it is part of a whole overall strategy of safety improvement. The whole company should work together in managing safety. The result can yield overall profitability increases beyond what was thought possible.