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Safety Accountability

Although it is difficult to create a hazard-free work environment, good managers who are committed to safety and who involves their employees in an effective safety program can work to provide an accident-free workplace.

One very effective way that supervision can involve employees in the workplace safety program is by using “Tailgate” or “Toolbox” safety meetings. These are 10-15 minute on-the-job meetings to discuss safety and work-related accidents and illnesses with employees. Tailgate/toolbox safety meetings can be used to address actual problems on the job or in the shop. The supervisor leading the meeting can draw on the experience of workers and use that experience to remind all employees – especially newer ones – of the dangers of working with particular kinds of machinery, tools, equipment, and materials.

A true safety culture begins with management. While a safe workplace is the responsibility of all employees, managers and frontline supervisors are accountable for the safety of their workplace and are responsible for the prevention of accidents. The primary management tools used to promote and develop a safe workplace are  communication, commitment, involvement, and implementation.

COMMUNICATION  It is important that employees feel comfortable in informing his or her supervisor about potential safety hazards. An “open door” policy is a good start, but it must be understood that “open door” means more than leaving the door unlocked. Employees must feel certain that their ideas or observations are taken seriously and acted upon.  When management demonstrates a commitment to safety in the workplace, employees respond by taking a more active interest in safety.

Employees need to be encouraged by their managers and frontline supervisors to make suggestions for improvements in workplace safety and hazard reduction. Managers and supervisors need to respond quickly and positively to those suggestions to show employees that their concerns are not only being heard but also acted upon. Every concern must be addressed, regardless of the outcome. If the outcome is that no action is to be done, the reasons why should be explained to employee who made the report or offered the suggestion.

Following up may seem to be a waste of time, or an unneccesary step in the process. The few minutes spent doing this, however, will greatly promote the safety culture all businesses wish to have. The employee will recognize that his or her input was respected and given proper consideration, and other employees will recognize that safety is more than a sign on a wall in your workplace. This will in turn encourage more participation, ideas and identification of other issues.

A manager who regularly walks around the workplace, who knows employees by name, and expresses a genuine interest in the day-to-day operation of the business, inspires confidence in his and or her employees. Informal inspections are the best method of identifying and correcting hazards on the spot, and should be a routine occurrence, especially in small businesses.

Formal safety meetings and trainings should be conducted on a regular basis. In this setting, new employees are trained in safe job procedures and experienced employees receive refresher courses related to their job. The workers who participate in formal safety trainings should have their safety skills and knowledge evaluated after the presentation, have their attendance documented, and this information kept on file for possible Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) inspection.

COMMITMENT – Management commitment is the driving force for organizing and controlling activities within an organization. A safety and health program will be effective when management views a safe and healthy work environment as fundamental and applies its commitment to protect employees as vigorously as its commitment to organizational goals and strategies.

To demonstrate management commitment to the health and safety program, OSHA recommends the following actions:

  • State the workplace safety and health policy clearly so all personnel can understand its importance in relation to other organizational values.
  • Establish and communicate the goal. Objectives should be clearly defined so all levels of personnel understand the desired results and what is expected of individuals to achieve those results.
  • Involve employees in decisions that affect their safety and health. If involved, employees will likely commit their insight and energy to achieving the program’s goal and objectives.
  • Provide visible top management support. Visibility gives employees the sense that the top-level management cares and is truly committed to the safety of the employees.
  • Assign and communicate responsibility to all personnel levels. Everyone should know what performance is expected and the consequences if performance levels are not achieved.
  • Give those assigned responsibilities the authority to act on situations that affect the goal and objectives. Anyone assigned safety responsibilities must also be given the authority to take action.
  • Hold employees accountable to meet their responsibilities so that essential tasks will be performed. There must be clearly stated disciplinary actions for failure to observe safety policies. These penalties must be fair, equally and evenly enforced, and have future compliance as a goal.
  • Review the safety program periodically to evaluate problems within the program and revise the objectives if the goal is not met.

Employees express their commitment to safety and health protection for themselves and their fellow workers through their involvement. An employee can enhance the program with a positive attitude toward safety.

INVOLVEMENT – It is important for all levels of management to know and understand the safety rules that employees must follow. Contractors and consultants who work on-site must follow the same safe and healthy work practices required by all full and part-time employees. Management must also follow the same rules when walking through with visitors or conducting an inspection. The same rules that apply to employees working in a given area all day apply to management or supervision “just visiting”, whether required by regulation or not. Lead by example. Commitment to workplace safety begins with the visible involvement and practice of the safety program by management itself.

IMPLEMENTATION – In larger organizations, safety committees are one way to involve employees and management in the production and maintenance very work site should have a safety committee, regardless of whether it is a plant, medical clinic or office environment. The committee should include representatives from management and the workforce to provide a balanced and knowledgeable viewpoint. A committee can establish guidelines for activities that cross divisional and departmental lines in the active pursuit of safety. Contests can be initiated and awards given to those individuals or groups who demonstrate a reduction in accident levels or maintain a hazard-free worksite.

Safety is a corporate objective like sales and profit. The bottom line for safety is its profitability in terms of increased quality in products, decreased workers’ compensation claims, savings when workers do not have to be replaced or retrained due to accidents, and potential reductions in health and insurance costs.

 

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