I’ve had so many questions about the importance of top-level management commitment to safety. In my experience, people care about the things that are important to the boss. There is really only one reason that top-level management should always lead safety efforts: Top-level management must visibly lead any effort that is important to the company. If employees see that something is important to the CEO, it will be more likely to be important to the employees.
Top-level management decides how work gets done at a company. They have the authority to hold people accountable for the way they want work done. They have the ability to provide resources key for the things that are really important. Quality is important. Customer service is important. Safety is important too. How do managers show that something is important? People pay attention to what the boss says. But more importantly, they pay even more attention to what the boss does.
Often, I will ask managers, “Who is responsible for safety at your company?” Too often, the answer is “the safety director” or “the safety committee.” The safety committee and safety director are key positions that are crucial to safety success, but without visible leadership by example from top management, there will never be enough resources, money, or time to do the things that need to happen that can really change a safety culture. Often, when a safety director or a safety committee member feels like they are not accomplishing what they have been commissioned to do, they are facing a challenge that originates at the top level of their organization.
In some ways, I think we do a disservice to our operations when we only have separate safety meetings with managers. Safety should be part of the day-to-day operations of every company. When I do a task that is important to my company, I work to incorporate quality, productivity, customer service, and safety all at once. Our meetings and training should really be the same. Some of the best solutions to safety problems also improve many other categories as well. I once worked for a company that made it a goal for every manager meeting to include safety as part of the discussion even if production was the prime reason for the meeting. A safe operation must be managed deliberately and systematically to be effective. The safest companies in the world have one thing in common: Safety is an ingrained value that is accepted as the only way they will do work.
• Express company values to employees
• Empower employees to take ownership of the systems
• Give support and provide resources
• Lead by example
• Be involved and encourage others to get involved
• Set achievable goals that are based on leading indicators
David Hanson, CSP, SAIF Corporation
Chapter Vice President and Conference Chair