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Safety Professionals Improve Safety Culture Through Leading By Example


Picture of a male industrial worker in a suit, hard hat, glasses, and a cape. The background gives the feel of a super hero.

Safety professionals occupy a pivotal role in fostering a culture of safety within an organization. They are not merely enforcers or watchdogs, but rather, they are the embodiments of the principles and practices they advocate.


Acting as "safety leaders," rather than "safety cops," these individuals can effectively drive home the relevance and necessity of safety protocols in the workplace. Safety leaders can achieve lasting impact by demonstrating, through their day-to-day activities and interactions, that safety is an integral aspect of operational efficiency, not a burdensome compliance obligation.


Their actions and behaviors can inspire employees to adopt safety-conscious attitudes, resulting in a safer and healthier workplace environment. In this article, we will explore the instrumental role of safety professionals in cultivating a robust safety culture by leading through example.


Safety Professionals Need to Follow the Rules


Picture showing a book on Rules and Regulations

Just as we expect leaders to lead by example, safety professionals must show their commitment to workplace safety by adhering strictly to all safety rules and regulations. This may seem like a no-brainer, but safety professionals must walk the talk.


To embody safety, they must know the rules inside out, which typically requires thorough study and training. It's hard to embody something you don't fully understand, let alone practice yourself. The credibility and effectiveness of safety professionals hinge on their ability to apply safety rules consistently and demonstrate their importance through personal conduct.


Ancient Wisdom Echoes Modern Principles

Drawing on ancient wisdom, we can further underscore our point with a biblical anecdote. Moses, a familiar figure from the Bible, was chosen by God to be the deliverer of laws. The initial encounter, where God revealed Himself in a burning bush, undoubtedly captured Moses' attention.


However, not long after this divine encounter, it's written that God sought to kill Moses, relenting only when Moses' wife performed the act of circumcision on their son, an overt display of obedience to God's earlier covenant requirement established with Abraham. Only then was Moses able to fulfill his destined role – the epic stand-off with Pharaoh that is widely known today.


This story serves as a powerful allegory illustrating the age-old idea of practicing what one preaches. Even a figure as significant as Moses was held accountable to the very law that existed for his culture at the time. Further, his being barred by God from entering the promised land for a disobedient act shows further accountability under the law.


The credible practice of safety at work should mirror this principle: those who enforce the rules must first embody them in their own conduct. Just as Moses had to adhere to God's laws before he could lead his people, so too must safety professionals uphold safety rules before they can effectively advocate for workplace safety.


A Broad and Holistic View of Workplace Safety


A view of earth from orbit

While safety rules must be adhered to, how they are implemented can either promote or hamper the success of a business operation. An efficient safety professional understands that safety, while important, is not the sole focus of a company.


In the absence of sales or production activities, a company's need for workplace safety becomes moot as there wouldn't be any activity requiring safety protocols. Therefore, safety should be seen not as an isolated priority, but as an integrated core value that supports the production process, helping to ensure its continued relevance and profitability.


For workplace safety to be truly effective, a safety professional needs to recognize that it is the operational activities and equipment that need to be utilized safely. These operations and equipment should have enough protective measures in place to ensure employees can safely carry out their duties. This perspective fosters a safe environment whilst promoting the smooth flow of production activities.


To ensure a comprehensive understanding of safety needs and issues, safety professionals should divide their time between fieldwork and office tasks. Spending time in the field is paramount to understanding the intricacies of production processes and identifying common areas of concern.


This hands-on approach helps to identify potential hazards and assess the effectiveness of existing safety protocols in real-time scenarios.


In addition to fieldwork, safety professionals should allocate time for office tasks, which include analyzing incident reports and trends. By studying these data, they can identify problem areas or persistent issues that might not be immediately apparent during field visits.


This kind of analysis can uncover patterns or recurring incidents, providing valuable insights for refining safety measures and predicting potential risks. Balancing these two aspects of their roles enables safety professionals to implement a more holistic and effective safety strategy, marrying their practical observations with data-driven insights.


Be Wise Enough to Learn and Accept Accountability


A sprouting plant in the soil

As safety professionals, we should be cognizant of the fact that our knowledge and authority can sometimes be capitalized on by employees to serve their own interests. It's crucial to establish clear communication channels and always validate information before jumping to conclusions or making decisions.


If an employee claims something has been approved or considered safe by you, management should verify it directly with you before proceeding. Moreover, we should strive to be known not just for our knowledge but also for our vigilance, critical thinking, and commitment to transparent communication.


It should be less about what a safety professional says and more about adherence to the rules. Good safety professionals refer back to them with production often. This shouldn't stop conversations about how best to adhere to the rules in light of the operational needs and constraints, however.


This overall approach not only mitigates risks but also encourages a culture of safety where integrity and clarity are valued over convenience or expedience.


Early in my career, there was an incident that profoundly shaped my approach to safety culture. A contractor had been called to resolve an issue at our facility, and I was tasked with escorting him.


Entering the field, I had unconsciously neglected to put on all my necessary personal protective equipment. A ground worker noticed this oversight and called me out on it. My initial reaction was one of confusion - I was about to question what he meant - but a quick glance down confirmed the truth of his observation.


In that moment, I recognized the importance of admitting my mistake and upholding the standards I would expect of anyone else in my position. I thanked him for his vigilance, asking him to briefly oversee the contractor while I returned to rectify my neglect.


I also handed him my observation pad and requested him to write a non-compliant observation against me. This decision was not merely about accepting the consequences of my oversight, but more importantly, it was about demonstrating respect for the established safety protocols, and showing that they applied to everyone equally, regardless of their position.


This experience served as a powerful lesson in humility, accountability, and the importance of leading by example. It helped foster a culture of respect and integrity within our workplace, reinforcing the belief that we all have a role to play in ensuring safety.


Be Willing to Do Some of What Others Do


Worker troweling a concrete floor

Something that I believe endeared me to workers was my willingness to dive into the work they did. Early in my career, I myself undertook stormwater ditch maintenance along with my other environmentally related duties.


However, what really seemed to impress workers was when I engaged in a task I had never done before. We had a concrete floor coated to withstand hazardous chemicals. When a part of it was damaged, it required fixing.


After research, I found a substance that could act as a filler and behave similarly to the existing coating. Once I received approval to procure it, I studied the application instructions, gathered the necessary equipment, and embarked on the repair work. The process involved me getting onto my hands and knees (armed with knee pads) to fill the damaged area.


Throughout this process, I noticed an audience of interested onlookers. Nods of approval and a subsequent reduction in resistance when implementing changes were a testament to the respect earned. Showing a willingness to pioneer changes, or assist with workers' tasks where possible, can foster respect and a readiness to entertain the advice given by a safety professional.


Working closely with management can be beneficial in identifying potential safety problems and proposing solutions. Showing that you are committed to safety while still understanding the needs of production will help increase the likelihood of management listening to your ideas, even if they don't agree. Additionally, discussing the issues and having a keen eye for detail may reveal that some problems are not as big of an issue as originally thought and can be managed more easily.


Key Takeaways


Picture showing blocks spelling the words "key takeaways". A combination lock and an ink pen are present.

In the realm of safety culture, the philosophy of leading by example carries immense value, driving improvement in the desired direction. For a safety professional, it's fundamental to visibly demonstrate adherence to the rules, not placing themselves above them.


They must immerse themselves in the field, exhibiting genuine care for the people and their work. Willingness to partake in the work, especially when pioneering something new, can earn considerable respect and compliance from the workforce.


However, this doesn't imply that they should carry out all tasks singlehandedly. The balance between production-oriented workers and those focused on safety is set up for a reason.


A well-struck equilibrium can yield optimum results. It involves acknowledging errors, taking responsibility, aiding others in learning, and achieving safety and production targets. Armored with these qualities, a safety professional becomes a visible embodiment of the workplace's safety culture.


This approach ensures employees return home safely at the end of the day and maintains the condition of equipment necessary for continuous, efficient, and profitable production. Such proactive participation and commitment to safety can inspire others to adopt similar practices, reinforcing a strong and effective safety culture in the workplace.

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