By Phil La Duke
Does your leadership support safety? Does your organizational culture? Do you? Most of you just answered a resounding “YES!!” when I asked you, some of you said it when asked about your culture (cultures are easy to malign) and far fewer likely answered yes when I asked about your leaders. The reality is that, when asked, most people would by insulted that their sincere support of safety was being questioned.
But if the whole world supports safety why is it so difficult to run an operation where injuries are a rarity? And why do we have to fight so hard to get the resources we need to correct hazards, and finally, why is it that so many people fail to do their jobs when it comes to safety? Greg Gerweck once told me that you always have the time and money for what is truly important to you. Some of you will become immediately offensive because you will claim that you value your family more than your job, or that you honestly wish you had more time for x but you have to do y. Just think of what Mr. Gerweck said, if it is truly important to you that’s where you spend your time and money (and I would add efforts but I suppose that’s a subset of time). If you want to understand what you really value, you have to reflect on how you spend your time and money, and furthermore, if you SAY you value something and you are spending most of your time and money doing something else…well, my guess is that you are either lying to yourself or are deeply unhappy. That’s not to say that there aren’t time when you miss your kid’s ballet recital or soccer game to get a big proposal written or to investigate a serious injury, but I believe that if that becomes the norm you are lying to yourself about your values and it’s probably making you unhappy.
It’s not uncommon to believe that you value something more than you really do, because believing that you value safety for example but doing nothing of substance to make it a reality is really a philosophical believe. “Workers deserve to come home uninjured” is hard to argue against, in fact, I’ve never met a person who has fought me on that. But it gets complicated when we have to make choices; hard choices. Do I shut down production because we’re working out of process and there’s a strong possibility that the will cause an injury? Or do we keep going because we’re already behind and maybe someone will get injured and maybe they won’t? In this case we are philosophically supportive of safety but we aren’t operationally supportive of safety. I can already hear the safety professionals weighing-in in agreement, but I could have just as easily asked the question, “Am I going to get off my lazy ass and check out how things are running in production, or am I going to spend the next 2 hours getting caught up on emails and paper work?” If your answers tend to favor production (even of emails) over safety then you don’t truly support safety at an operational level.
I’ll take it even further, If you don’t do your job because you have convinced yourself that the problem lies in the culture, the leadership, or the employees themselves, then you don’t support safety at an operational level. There is something so deeply satisfying in excusing the fact that we aren’t successful in building a safer work place by decrying it as impossible. It’s a bit like getting in shape. We’ve tried dieting and that didn’t work so now we eat what we want and get fatter, we value our health, but not enough to do anything about it. We try exercising, but that didn’t work either so we have the exercise bike gathering dust. If we give up when we don’t see immediate results, we really can’t say we value something or support it. When we support something that someone else is doing can we really call that support?
Values are the deep-seated, hardwired beliefs that determine how we will make every choice and how we will spend our time and money. Saying safety is a value sounds nice and looks great hanging on the wall in the lobby but unless it manifests in how decisions are made from the CEO to the temporary worker who cleans them restrooms all it these posters are decoration, and tacky ones at that.
We can’t change anything by grousing about it on the sidelines. Safety connects to everything we do so if you are in an organization that doesn’t seem to value safety, and you are a safety professional, it’s your job to connect the dots for them. From safety to profits, or productivity, or whatever it is they do value. It’s not an easy job to the minds of people who have been actively antagonistic of safety, but over time, and through continually asking the question, “do you support safety?” sooner or later most of the organization will come around to your way of thinking.
So whether you see your job as merely counting bodies, or further making safety look ridiculous through safety BINGOs and children’s art contests, or saving lives, get out there and support safety, not philosophically, but in practice. And at the end of each work day ask yourself, “what I done to make the workplace safer today?” Only then can you claim to support safety and have that claim really mean anything of substance.