A Key to Safety Performance Improvement
I have been intimately involved with safety in one form or another for my entire career. I became an electrician when I was a young man, spent a few decades in power plants as an engineer, held various management positions in the electric transmission and distribution field, and now act as a safety consultant. Over the years I have learned a great deal, and I want to share with you one of the most important lessons I’ve picked up along the way.
I’ve noticed over time that many people are interested in safety topics such as the latest human performance tools, the best personal protective equipment (PPE), the importance of wearing the proper PPE and the value of quality pre-job briefs. However, what most of these same people fail to understand is that even though these topics are critical to workplace safety – and even if you make a concerted effort to implement safety best practices, tools and initiatives – your organization’s safety performance will never improve without a properly aligned management support structure in place.
Although it can be difficult to come to this realization, it is worth investigating what’s happening at your company and adjusting its management support structure if it is misaligned. Conduct an honest assessment either on your own or with assistance in order to truly determine where you stand with regard to your management support structure. If you seek out help, beware of consultants and others who simply want to push a new human performance tool or program. They may be very expensive to work with and may not help your organization achieve its goal. A primary objective when searching for consulting assistance is to find someone who will be honest with you. As Thomas Sowell put it, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
Management and Supervisory Alignment
Let’s take a closer look at management support structures and the definition of management and supervisory alignment. The concept of alignment means that your entire team knows, understands and uses safe work practices, and holds each other accountable for those practices. It also means that everyone who works for the company receives the same safety message and communicates that message throughout the rest of the company. At its core, management and supervisory alignment is about everyone being on the same page when it comes to safety.
To clarify my point, consider the following example in which a lack of management and supervisory alignment sends a mixed message regarding where the topic of safety truly lies in the corporate culture. A supervisor conducts an excellent pre-job briefing, identifying and addressing on-the-job hazards with the crew. An hour later, a manager arrives at the work site. He is not wearing safety glasses nor the proper footwear. To make matters worse, the manager’s first question is whether or not the crew will finish the job on schedule. Just before leaving, he reminds the crew about the importance of finishing the work on time.
What kind of message does this send to the crew members? Based on their interaction with the manager, they surely do not believe that the entire organization is honestly concerned about safety. In fact, they may now believe that the company’s interest in safety is completely fake. The manager has undermined the excellent work of the supervisor, and the crew is now solely focused on getting their work done as quickly as possible. If the organization’s management team and supervisory team had been properly aligned, the manager would have arrived on the job site wearing the correct PPE to model safe work practices, and his first question would have been about the job site and what was discussed during the pre-job briefing.
Note: Please don’t misunderstand this example. Your main focus must be on safety, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work safely while getting the job done on time. It does mean, however, that you should never sacrifice safety in order to meet a deadline. If you preach that safety is the No. 1 priority, then safety has to be the No. 1 topic that you focus on and talk about.
In order for your organization to achieve and maintain its top safety performance, it is absolutely critical to truly align your management team, from C-level executives down through each and every level of supervisor. Take it from me – don’t waste your time, money or personnel resources on anything else until you get this right.
About the Author: Nick Davey is the owner and president of Davey Utility Services Inc. (www.daveyutility.com). Since 2003, the company has provided utility coordination for builders and developers, and safety consulting services for power generation and transmission and distribution companies. Davey holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Widener University and a master’s degree in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania.