Safety management: it’s like war

Safety management: it’s like war

As safety professionals who want to make a difference, we need to get out of our offices and practice “safety boots on the ground”

Obviously we all need to spend a certain amount of time in the office. However, it is important to get rid of those activities that do not add any value to the drive in reducing incidents and injuries.

Safety professionals should endeavour to find the right balance between time spent in the office and time spent on the shop floor. It is on the shop floor where safety and health conversations take place, where critical controls can be assessed and much-needed support and guidance can be provided to management, employees and contractors.

Being on the shop floor contributes to a reduced number of injuries and incidents, which, in turn, impacts positively on the demands of time placed on safety professionals and others.

In war, the strategic planning takes place in the offices and meeting rooms, but the battles are fought and won by the soldiers having boots on the ground. The same applies to safety management. So, while we can’t avoid critical time spent in meetings (planning the strategy and related initiatives), we need to put on our personal protective equipment (PPE) and get our “safety boots on the ground”.

Safety and health professions should:

• Talk to people on the shop floor and listen to their concerns and suggestions to improve the safety standards and compliance to the rules.

• Forget about a checklist. Keep an open mind and address the high-risk issues as they are identified.

• Don’t treat all concerns with the same level of attention. Focus more on the high-risk conditions that have the potential of fatal or life-altering injuries.

• Get involved with the teams. Don’t only point out the issues of concern. Discuss them with the relevant people and try to assist in finding a practical solution.

• Forget about using a camera for everything. Sending e-mails with photographs does not always make the necessary difference. It is often more effective to get the responsible person to the area and resolve the issue in person there and then. Be part of the solution.

• Take along relevant managers and supervisors when walking through the high-risk areas. This will provide important coaching opportunities.

• Allocate some time and attention to the positive issues and provide positive feedback.

• Always end the session with verbal feedback and agreement on the actions required.

What is the role of managers?

Just as it applies to the safety and health professionals, the principle of “safety boots on the ground” also applies to management. Managers have the line responsibility to ensure that safe and healthy workplaces are provided, and work is undertaken in a manner that does not pose a risk to the safety and health of any employees.

Managers need to lead by example and practice visible leadership by making time to be on the shop floor, to discuss safety and health issues with their employees and contractors and ensure that all safety standards and rules are being observed.

Managers should:

• Allocate a percentage of their time to be on the shop floor, where they talk to employees and contractors on safety and health matters;

• Include themselves in the safety and health audit schedules;

• Include safety and health matters in management meetings and allocate sufficient time to address these issues;

• Monitor action items closed out by due date for key safety action plans (developed from incident investigations, audit reports and minutes of meetings);

• Ensure the management team is aligned on the safety message to prevent confusion on the shop floor.

The role of supervisors, foremen and team leaders

If organisations want to develop the desired safety culture, it is critical that supervisors, foremen and team leaders spend this time on the shop floor directing their respective teams to ensure they are well aligned to the safety objectives of the company.

Supervisors, foremen and team leaders are key people in achieving the safety objectives. They are the ones that direct and oversee the work being done … be it safely or unsafely. So it is critical that they, too, get their “safety boots on the ground”, to ensure that their teams are working in a safe manner and that all standards and rules are being observed.

Supervisors, foremen and team leaders should:

• Conduct critical task audits in their areas of responsibility to determine whether safe operating procedures are still relevant, understood and being adhered to;

• Conduct regular safety toolbox talks with their teams, which add value and are specific to their working environment;

• Limit the use of off-the-shelf communication material – instead develop customised material that is more relevant to their teams;

• Be proactive and persistent in driving the desired safety culture in their area of responsibility;

• Have a zero-tolerance approach for non-compliance to safety rules. If the standard is allowed to drop, it will become the norm and be followed by the teams.

Working together to make a difference

If managers, supervisors, foremen, team leaders and safety and health professionals are aligned in both messages and behaviour, and they adopt the principle of “safety boots on the ground”, organisations will have a better chance of achieving higher standards and improved safety performances. 

Brian Darlington is the group head of safety and health for the Mondi Group, based in Vienna, Austria. He has filled the role since 2012 and is responsible for safety and health in more than 30 countries. Brian started working at Iscor before joining Mondi in 1987, working in Gauteng. In 2000 he transferred to the Kraft Division in Richards Bay. During 2005, Brian transferred to Europe, taking up the position of business unit SHE manager, responsible for SHE in paper mills in Austria, Hungary, Israel, Slovakia, Poland, South Africa and Russia, as well as forests operations in South Africa and Russia.

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