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Louder Than Words

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Louder Than Words

Every business leader believes that the safety and health of their employees is a top priority. But how does a business leader really know if employees share that same commitment? Or, do we know for sure that employees truly believe management is committed to their safety? How does a leader know if the actions of a workforce really align with the company’s stated safety goals? If the business leader believes safety is a top priority but employees don’t agree, there is a significant disconnect that must be bridged.

Taking the Pulse of an Organization
Since 2010 Horton has been objectively measuring the difference between perception and reality through “safety culture surveys.” Sometimes referred to as “safety perception surveys,” the survey consists of 25 standardized “yes” or “no” questions that anonymously solicit the honest input of employees, supervisors, and management. The survey can further refine results by department and/or years of service with the organization. Surveys are produced and evaluated in both English and Spanish.Insurance companies recognize the effectiveness of these safety culture or safety perception surveys and some have developed their own survey processes. Amerisure Insurance has a data base of over 33,000 survey responses. This database allows for accurate benchmarking against business peers across the country. Specializing in insurance for construction and manufacturing companies, Amerisure has been able to identify critical differences in safety perception between workers and management for companies completing the survey.

Bridging the Gap
What do the statistics tell us? The surveys dig deep to reveal the respondents honest perception of safety. The differences in perception of management, supervisors,  and workers can be narrowed by evaluating these influencing factors:

I. Accountability:
Accountability is key to the success of all safety programs. When employees understand safety rules and policies are aggressively enforced, behaviors change. More importantly, when supervisors understand they will be held responsible for failing to enforce safety rules, company results improve.

Safety also needs to be a performance review factor, equal in importance to productivity and quality. Supervisors and employees who demonstrate strong safety performance should be rewarded. Bonuses or increases in pay should be based, in strong measure, on the employee or supervisors safety performance.

II. Leadership Skills:
Supervisors and managers are often promoted having worked through the ranks. These newly appointed supervisors and managers must be observed, coached, and evaluated for their ability to promote and support safety program goals and objectives. This is a skill often overlooked by companies who select front line supervision from the ranks. Supervisors often need more training than front line workers, particularly with respect to identifying and correcting unsafe conditions and behaviors. Supervising for safety is a skill that must be taught.

III. Rules vs. Accepted Workplace Practices:
The Amerisure survey question “Does your manager or supervisor follow or enforce safety rules” resulted in only 68% agreement by responding employees. This is a clear indication of the divide between what is written and what is actually occurring in practice.

For example, a laborer for a road and bridge contractor was hospitalized for lead poisoning after removing old steel beams with a cutting torch. The accident investigation revealed employees routinely cut steel beams coated with lead based paint without using respiratory protection supplied and offered to all employees. The investigation also revealed a lack of enforcement by field supervision to require employees to wear respirators when cutting old steel beams with torches. Despite training and availability of respirators, employees failed to recognize the risk and supervisors failed to enforce company procedures. Only after the employee was hospitalized did the company decide to discipline the worker for failing to follow safety rules.

Using discipline only after an injury occurs is poor management and undermines attempts to develop a culture of safety. More time and effort must be spent identifying unsafe and at risk behaviors BEFORE an injury occurs. Employees AND supervision must be held accountable.

IV. Perception is Reality:
The time, money, and effort spent on developing rules and training employees is ineffective in the absence of leadership and a true culture of safety. The safety culture survey process is a quick, effective, and revealing way of taking the pulse on the heart of your safety program. The survey identifies clear opportunities for improvement so you can chart a course for improvement.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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