Top Ten Mistakes We Can Make While Managing OHS
By Alan Quilley
The challenge of managing the many aspects of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) at our places of work at times can feel overwhelming. There are many legal, moral and financial reasons for us to pay attention to our OHS obligations. With all of these challenges we need to ensure that we are not wasting our time, money and efforts doing things that simply don’t work. Here is a Top Ten list of common errors we can make in managing OHS issues that hopefully we can all avoid. It’s OK if you start humming the theme song to one of those popular late night talk shows while you read this list.
(1) Celebrate the lack of injury and not the existence of safety.
It is a huge mistake to focus on the lack of injury as the measure that we’ve been safe. Everyone I’ve ever met can tell me of a situation when they have taken a terrible risk with their well-being and have gotten away with it. Of course we should be happy when we’ve gone a period of time without anyone being hurt, but that doesn’t mean we were "safe". Safety cannot be defined as a lack of injury. Safety is created by what we do, not what we avoid.
Too many companies reward the "lucky" who didn’t get hurt while being unsafe and the "liars" who don’t report injuries to avoid being the employee that breaks the safety record. We need more focus on making our work places safe by doing the safety activities it takes to create safety. Safety celebrations should be shared with those people who have helped make our workplaces safe and not those who have just been lucky!
(2) Do safety to our employees and not with them.
Rules imposed by others don’t often get the buy in needed to actually change behaviour. Involving employees in the process of establishing the safe behaviours and rules that apply to their workplaces makes it much more likely that those rules of behaviour will be complied with. Challenging groups of employees to set and review the standards of performance involves them in the essentials of safety.
(3) Do safety for the government.
Companies in the early stages of developing their safety cultures often make the mistake of being "reluctant compliers". They are doing safety because the government is forcing them to do it. The value of managing safety is truly beneficial to a company’s bottom line productivity and performance. The sooner a company starts doing safety for the added value to their performance the sooner they will start to perform! Safety is about getting everyone home every night. Of course how we do that should be in compliance with the applicable OHS related laws. Don’t do safety for the government, make your work safe and make it legal… your company will thrive financially because of it.
(4) Ignore the importance of the proper tools, equipment, materials and work space.
The historic myth that unsafe behaviour causes 88% of the incidents we experience is simply NOT true. Unsafe behaviours are involved in ALL incidents we experience. The other part of the formula that is often ignored by believing in this myth is that unsafe conditions are also always present. We need to focus our efforts on both safe behaviours and safe conditions (tools, equipment, materials and work environment). If we only supply broken tools to humans, we shouldn’t be surprised when they get hurt. If we don’t supply an easily accessible lifting machine for employees to use, we shouldn’t be surprised when they are injured by over lifting. Good tools and equipment increase the chances that workers will do their work by not taking unnecessary risks.
(5) Ignore the culture of unsafe behaviour.
Not making safe behaviour personal and not holding each other accountable for making it safe at work is a huge mistake. Allowing our fellow employees to continue unsafe behaviours is often disastrous. We are our brothers and sisters keepers. Not unlike when we play team sports games, we must take the opportunity to coach our fellow employees who are missing the safe behaviours they need to do so they go home safely every night.
(6) Miscalculate the power of groups actively caring about each other.
Inviting co-workers to give us feedback and coaching when they see us doing something unsafe is a wonderful way to increase the team approach to safety. Unless invited, our coworkers may feel reluctant to bring our mistakes to our attention for fear of a poor reaction. We’re in this together so why not open up the discussion and invite each other to help us through the challenges of behaving safely.
(7) Deliver Safety Programs to passive employees.
I’m not sure what happened historically to make us believe that we could deliver safety to employees like a pizza. The sooner we hold everyone accountable for safe production and not just production with safety added on, the better off we’ll all be. Challenging employees to come up with the ways to make their work safe is well documented as a sure fire way to increase your safety performance.
(8) Measure results and not the activities that create safety.
Companies who define safety activities for all of their staff throughout their organizations (including the CEO) are safer than those who don’t. Demanding that the measurement of doing a great job includes doing safety tasks like: investigations, hazard assessments, inspections and attending meetings, gets what needs to be done, actually DONE. Not doing this ensures that safety activities will take a back seat to production every time.
(9) Manage OHS differently than we manage the other parts of our businesses.
Why would a profitable successful company with a clear record of managing success implement a "safety program" that doesn’t EXACTLY replicate why they are successful in the first place? Manage safety exactly like you manage your business and you’ll get similar results. There are too many companies that manage safety differently than their business to the peril of their safety results.
If you know how your employees and management team are motivated to give you production, why would you settle for doing something different to get safety results?
Far too often companies take a very positive and proactive approach to motivating productivity activities yet do exactly the opposite when it comes to safety by providing only negative reinforcement for safety. Safety is a condition of employment is a commonly used threat. Of course it is, and so is being on time and doing your job. Too many companies in their orientation focus on making negative consequences the key messages during orientation rather than to tell employee that we need their help to make it safe here and we are counting on you to help us with safe production. Of course you cannot ignore unsafe behaviours any more than you would ignore behaviours that didn’t comply with your productivity systems. Stop making safety feel like a negative thing. There is nothing negative about doing our work with a focus on safe production.
(10) Hold safety meetings that everyone wants to avoid.
I have spoken to tens of thousands of employees in my career about the functionality of the "safety meetings" that they attend. Overwhelmingly people tell me they don’t like what goes on in these meetings very much. The natural question is "Why are we going to a meeting and not liking what is going on?" Simply fix it! At your next meeting stand up and tell folks you’d like to discuss how to make these meetings better. Let’s all set a goal of not sitting silently at a meeting that isn’t addressing our needs. Just say NO to unsuccessful safety meetings!
Well there you have it. I hope you have some ideas to think about to make your safety culture better. Own the safety process, take part in creating it, stand up and be counted. We need to do this together and stop doing things that we know fail. Let’s be successful together… it matters a lot to you and the people that you work with!
Why do I feel now like I should be throwing a 3X5 cue card through a fake window while I hear the sound of breaking glass just like David Letterman would? I’m certainly not the only one who misses Dave! Am I?