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 Leadership - The Driver for Safety and Health

A major 1979 NIOSH study concluded that management commitment to safety is the major controlling influence in obtaining success, and overall, maximally effective safety programs in industry will depend on those practices that can successfully deal with people variables.

Safety professional Larry Hansen differentiates the passive management role from leadership when he says safety leadership [is] where executives exhibit "profound knowledge" — an understanding of what's right — and proactive involvement — a willingness to act on what's wrong.

Leadership is making organizational safety expectations clear, supporting safety financially, being present when key safety issues are decided, being positive about and supportive of others safety efforts, creating and insisting on a caring company culture. It is, in fact, the single "overwhelming" factor in achieving an effective safety and health program.  Without it, accidents abound.

Above all else, leadership is a constant demonstration by the key managers in an organizations that safety and health is a critical element of daily operations.  Here are the kinds of things managers do to show leadership:

  • Chair the plant safety committee
  • Hold subordinates responsible for the costs associated with accidents.
  • Have the safety function, where assigned , report to him/her.
  • Have a Board of Director's Safety and Health committee.
  • Hold a monthly plant-wide safety meeting where he/she takes questions and addresses safety issues.
  • Have any loss incidents reported directly to him/her at the time of  occurrence.
  • Make sure that organizational safety expectations are absolutely clear by asking every member of the organization about them.
  • Be present, and supportive, whenever key safety issues are decided... show they are as important as key product and quality decisions.
  • Spend daily time on the plant floor asking people about safety and observing and commenting on issues.
  • Start every meeting with a discussion of safety.
  • Require a formal safety and health plan from every manager and hold them accountable for results.
  • Deliver the safety vision in person to every work team (rather than sending it out in memo).
  • Let people see him/her picking up dropped items, moving obstructions, helping out for safety every day.
  • Make it clear that any accident is unacceptable and ask hard questions about every one so people know he/she is really serious about having no accidents.
  • Act every day in a way that makes it clear he/she knows that everyone is watching to see if safety is really a key value.
  • Empower every employee to do what's right for safety...and support and encourage them when they make a mistake.
  • Try progressive approaches which fit into the company business strategy/and workplace culture.
  • Personally attend all safety training.
  • Know the facility safety rules...and never violate any one for any reason...and challenge any one who does.

These examples come from site visits, benchmarking, and trade media reports. They all work somewhere; but few will work everywhere. Success depends on the manager, the company culture, and the nature of the organization. Pick those which will fit.

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