Southern Oregon Chapter President
I wasn’t always in the safety profession. When I was a teenager, I remember working for a sub-contractor during a summer job. One of the sites we were working for was addressing some serious injuries that they had recently. They began to put up signs and a large traffic light that announced how they were doing at safety. I remember a mannequin that had bandages representing the injuries their employees had suffered recently. I think many of their awareness efforts had limited effectiveness, but they had some new rules that I think were potentially very effective. One of these was a new rule requiring eye protection in the aircraft hangars as a condition of employment. I remember thinking this was a wise and practical measure, and even us contractors were given adequate safety glasses that we could use to comply with the new prudent rules. I had no problems wearing them, as required, and appreciated management’s effort to protect my eyes. I bought into the new safety initiatives. You might say, I was an early adopter. So far so good.
Generally, in the break room we removed the safety glasses, and they were not required there. There was a long hallway between the breakroom and the hangar. This hallway was basically an office-type hallway and did not contain any acute eye hazards that I could tell. My understanding was that I did not need to wear the glasses until I got to the hangar. I was on my way back to work, heading down this hallway to the hangar. I was wearing my safety glasses on my forehead and fully intended to place them back over my eyes before I entered the hangar. Walking the opposite direction was a manager that had never spoken to me before. He immediately pointed his finger and yelled at me to “get your safety glasses on now!” I complied with the demand, but this event also signaled the end of my support for his safety program.
One big lesson I learned was this: how we present our safety initiatives to employees is just as important as what the initiatives are. To this day, I wonder if that manager ever found out why his approach to managing safety was not as successful as it could’ve been. His intention to make sure employees were using the best practices to stay safe on the job was admirable. His approach was to gain robotic compliance from his workforce by shouting at them and humiliating them in front of others.
Our efforts can be so much more effective if we work harder to include front line employees in making these safety initiatives a positive effort. Often, we think about a safety program as being the program implemented by management, and certainly that is true. It always helps to remember that employees are the #1 beneficiary of the safety program. The true owners (stakeholders) of the safety program are the workers that make safety happen every day, every hour, and every second on the front line where work is happening. If we lose cooperation from those key stakeholders… no amount of yelling and pointing will make anyone safer in the long run.
David Hanson, CSP