Nothing will kill a safety culture like leaders who undermine safety policies, and who fail to be safety role models themselves. I've worked with many companies in all sorts of different industries, and I've heard some crazy stories about unsafe behaviors. I recently heard a particularly alarming story from a warehouse site in a manufacturing company. The EHS manager walked through the warehouse one day and noticed an employee working nearly 20 feet above the floor without any fall protection equipment on. Clearly a safety violation. He immediately instructed the employee to come down and put on a safety harness before he continued any work above 6 feet. The employee came down and indicated he would do this immediately. Problem solved, right?
Upon returning to the area about 20 minutes later, he was even more surprised when he saw the same employee once again working at the same height – and still without his safety harness! He immediately yelled up at the guy and asked him, “What are you doing up there again? I thought I told you that you needed a safety harness to be working up there!” The employee's response rendered the EHS manager utterly speechless. The employee said…wait for it… “Yeah, but my supervisor told me to get back up here. He said it was ok to not wear one.” I happen to know for a fact this caused the EHS manager to almost quit his job that day. Unfortunately, this is representative of so many other times when supervisors at that site had completely undermined safety for the sake of production, and I'm sure its not just this company with this problem.
Luckily for that company, he stuck around. As of today, he is still working hard to change the culture, and we’re helping him to do that. But one of the most essential, elementary things about safety culture is that the leaders must “walk the talk.” If supervisors and foremen are telling employees that they must wear their PPE, lock and tag out equipment 100% of the time, and attend every single safety meeting, then guess what – they need to do that too. I have seen too many organizational safety initiatives lose months and months of hard work in a split second just because a supervisor decided that he/she was an exception to the rule. This immediately results in lost credibility and trust in whatever safety programs are in place. It’s a shame, but it still happens quite a bit.
Leaders at all levels must abide by all the safety policies, role model safe behavior, and actively participate in safety initiatives in order for safety culture to flourish. And based on their own SafetyDNA profile, some leaders will do this naturally while others will struggle. But luckily, it is something that can be coached and developed in leaders once they are aware of their tendencies and attitudes, and put behaviors in place that support the intended safety message. This will go a long way in helping them to demonstrate credibility, which will drive home the message that safety really is priority number one.
Select International works with many global companies each day to improve their safety culture through safety leadership assessment, training and development. To find out more about how leader traits and skills influence their ability to demonstrate credibility when it comes to safety, and how these skills can be improved, visit our website safety page at: http://www.selectinternational.com/employee-safety-assessment.