Industrial workplace safety and health depend on getting employees involved in the process. When they’re asked to contribute to the safety of others, employees are more likely to work safely themselves.
"If employees don’t understand the ‘why,’ not just the ‘how’ [of workplace safety], they’ll never get beyond a certain point," says Fred Rine, founder and CEO of FDRSafety, a full-service consulting group headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee.
"You need to motivate them by reminding them that the reason to work safely is to protect their lives and their families," says Rine. "You have to keep the message positive."
You must also hold workers accountable for safety, Rine says, but with the proviso that you’re enforcing the rules not to punish employees, but so that they get home to their families in one piece at the end of their shifts.
Rine is an OSHA veteran with nearly 4 decades of experience in manufacturing, steel, and transport. Over the years he has developed strong views about what works in employee protection.
Asked what differentiates average from excellent when it comes to workplace safety, Rine says the difference is the engagement of personnel at all levels.
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Rine believes in the adage "What interests my boss fascinates me." So if a leader is highly engaged in safety, employees will likely follow suit. Rine recalls his experience as the safety director of a company with 3,000 employees. The CEO consistently stated that he would not compromise safety, a belief that trickled down to everyone under him. Yet verbal commitment isn’t enough—leaders must also be involved.
The Supervisory Force
Positioned between employees and managers, frontline supervisors are the "meat" in the workplace sandwich. That, says Rine, makes theirs the toughest job of any in the organization. Their concern for employees and their active involvement in safety are essential to success.
You also have to find ways to make hourly workers part of the safety and health process. When employees are asked to take an active part in making the workplace safer, they’re more likely to work safely themselves.
Back to Basics
Rine anticipates that the next several years are likely to bring a greater emphasis on compliance—and that means you’re going to need plenty of cooperation among management, supervisors, and employees to meet OSHA requirements.
"President Obama is going to put more strength into OSHA, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it means that we’re going to see a lot of enforcement and increased penalties," he says.
With that shift in mind, Rine recommends that employers get back to the basics. This means steps like ensuring that records are accurate, facilities are in compliance with OSHA standards, required training is properly conducted, employees are participating actively in safety programs, and the management team fully understands what’s required.
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Synergy in Teams
Scott Gaddis is another pedigreed safety professional who believes in making employees a key part of the safety process.
Gaddis started his career with GE and then joined Kimberly-Clark Professional, a business segment of Kimberly-Clark Corporation, where he travels widely to share his expertise with corporate manufacturing sites as well as some of the corporation’s customers.
Gaddis thinks that for too long safety professionals have concentrated on "fixing the environment," focusing on removing physical deficiencies in a workplace. Achieving world-class safety, he says, also requires building employee capability and commitment through training, mentoring, and personal ownership.
The real synergy in industrial safety lies in teams, Gaddis suggests. "I started my career years ago and eventually built a team of capable safety professionals. They worked hard, and we had ‘OK’ results. Over time, however, I realized that it was only once we gained the synergy of the employee population that we could get to world-class results."
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