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One Takeaway from a Client's Safety Summit

October 22, 2014

122499528Last week we were invited to speak at one of our client’s company safety summits. This particular client is a large, global manufacturing company. We were honored, as this was an internal event that only occurs once every 2 years, where all of their North American Health & Safety Managers attend to discuss important safety trends and data, receive training on key issues, and develop a game plan for improving safety.

As part of the education they received, we presented our recent work with two of their sites which were experiencing rising incident rates. We have been working with supervisors at those sites to measure their safety leadership skills, and then provide coaching and development to help them improve in key areas of safety leadership. One site in particular had incurred two recordable injuries that are already costing them well over $1 million in direct costs alone. One of these involved a shocking incident where a supervisor actually hit one of his own employees with a motorized vehicle on the shop floor. Apparently when this supervisor was questioned about his role in the incident, he took little to no responsibility for his actions. He said, “The guy shouldn’t have been there.” This attitude summarized one of the key themes for the summit – safety leadership and the (lack of) accountability that supervisors often have for the safety of their team members.

In fact, our main contact at the company had suspected all along that supervisors were the ‘weak link’ in the safety chain at many of their facilities. Many attendees agreed with this and provided instances of how supervisors were either unequipped or unwilling to really take ownership for the safety of their people. While Corporate has the vision for how they wish to change the underlying safety culture, and hourly employees are eager and safety conscious, this company has struggled to take the next steps because somewhere in the process, the message always gets lost between the supervisor and the hourly employee.

So what strategies did they discuss?  They talked about doing safety audits everywhere, but then noted how that won’t really change behavior in the end. They talked about putting controls in place – updates to policies, installing new machine guarding and fancy new Lock Out / Tag Out equipment. Case management, training, you name it. But what they kept coming back to was, “There are many supervisors in our facilities, like the guy who hit one of his employees with a vehicle. How do we know where they are and how do we help them improve? How do we stop this from ever happening again?”

That set the stage perfectly for us to tell them about the importance of SafetyDNATM, leadership style, and how they influence team safety. We shared about the work we had done at their 2 pilot sites. Then our contacts at these 2 sites shared all sorts of stories about how their supervisors were talking differently and treating their employees differently, and making safety personal. In fact, one Safety Manager said the hourly employees were wondering “Who are these guys and what have you done with our Supervisors??” As is usually the case, once leaders see their psychological profile, have it explained to them and then learn specific behaviors they can use to overcome their blind spot areas, their behavior can start changing dramatically. This can have profound benefits to the company safety culture and safety performance, as we are starting to find out from all of our clients.

So while machine safety, effective case management, and extra training can all have beneficial impacts, nothing carries as much weight as a supervisor suddenly understanding how they are “hard wired” psychologically. And how this "hard wiring" affects them taking ownership for the safety of their people, making it personal, and engaging in solid safety leadership behaviors on a daily basis. After all, safety is ultimately about people, and people are all unique, so why would they all lead safety in the same way?

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Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. is the Director of Safety Solutions at PSI. He manages the development and implementation of all safety solutions and services, which address some of the critical challenges faced by organizations today in workplace safety.