As safety leaders, a lot of times (necessarily) we focus on the behaviors of associates and people who we are responsible for. This is augmented by people-oriented programs such as behavior-based safety, STOP, or some variant thereof. Some oversight is necessary, but when there’s a hyperacute focus on others, we have a tendency to be less accountable for our own behaviors.
Safety leaders, whether functioning in a pure safety role, or an operations role, can benefit from trapping some of our own behavioral errors. Making mistakes or honest errors is part of being human, but increasing our own awareness of common mistakes helps retain credibility, integrity, and the positive momentum that we’ve worked so diligently to build in our organization’s own safety program. Here’s three behaviors that we should never see from a safety leader:
1) Delegating responsibility for safety when the Safety Leader is not involved in the operation
When the safety leader is present on a job or project site, he/she serves as a visible reminder to others about safety behaviors. From a management commitment perspective, the absence of safety leadership from a project should not mean that the wheels come off the bus. The safety leader may be spread thin, as he/she is in many organizations, and the temptation to delegate safety responsibilities is ever present. This is especially true when the safety leader cannot be present for work activities. As part of that management commitment, safety is not something we can leave “for the next guy,” even when leadership is not directly involved in the operation. Management has a responsibility to ensure that there’s a responsible party at the work / project site, but can never pass the accountability for safety. If management doesn’t remain accountable, there’s a greater chance that we run into issues with communication and production pressures.
2) Focusing on productivity and deadlines
Part of the safety leader’s role is to bring balance to safety and operations, and this is usually caused by a misalignment of incentives in an organization. Organizations like to create incentives for efficient and effective workers, but often times there are unintended consequences for these incentives. If the incentives are not aligned with the organization’s core values, often times safety, and workers themselves, suffer. Included in project plans are timelines and dates, which often get translated into deadlines. Deadlines are socially constructed timelines for completing work or a project, and often times have little regard towards conditions and the environment in which personnel have to perform work. Their effect on personnel can be tremendous, especially when they receive a great deal of attention from management. The real danger is that imposing a tight timeline on personnel to complete a set of activities creates an incentive for workers to cut corners…any way they can.
3) Succumbing to production pressure, and trading safety for efficiency
This is probably the trickiest aspect for safety leaders to navigate. There is an ever-present pressure to remain on schedule and task for any project. When the pressure increases to a point when it negatively impacts the leader’s team, and incentivizes those doing the work to “increase efficiency,” this should raise a red flag. A safety leader has a responsibility to identify stressful situations, and help provide some balance to ensure that workers are efficient, but not to the point where the organization ends up taking on additional or unnecessary risks. Additionally, this can be mitigated by the implementation and deployment of hazard identification, risk assessment, and stop work procedures.