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The 4 Areas Safety Professionals Need to Focus On

By Daniel Clark
Published: March 21, 2022
Key Takeaways

This is where our efforts can have the greatest impact.

Caption: Workers at a container unit Source: eakgrunge / iStock

As safety professionals, one of our main focuses is continual improvement. We set benchmarks, adjust practices, and tweak programs to ensure that safety performance gets better over time.

In order to do this effectively, we need to know which key areas have the most opportunity for improvement.

By and large, data indicates that industry best practices are being applied well at the basic level. That's good news. It means that safety professionals are doing their job and doing it well.

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It also means that we need to look elsewhere if we want to make a greater impact. In 2022, it's the higher-level management processes that need our attention. Management, quality, and safety methodologies and philosophies need to be carefully applied across the industry to support four areas in particular.

Last week, Mark Wright shared the four levers of action that can drive safety forward. In this article, we'll take a closer look at what it takes to put them in action.

Values and Beliefs

One of the principal challenges of any management system is gaining buy-in from employees.

It is, however, a challenge worth facing. When employees buy into the safety program, they take ownership of safety procedures, contribute ideas, and act as extra sets of eyes ensuring everyone is conforming to policies and procedures.

(Learn more about Enhancing Safety Culture Through Mentorship Programs)

There are, unfortunately, no guaranteed approaches for securing buy-in. It takes an understanding of the existing values among your worker base and the ability to "speak their language."

There's no one-size-fits-all approach here. Input and feedback from all levels should be treated as valuable because the best way to understand a person's values is to listen to them when they tell you.

Communication has to flow in both directions. Data-supported decision making should be substantiated in a way that is both understandable and relevant, even if that means altering the messaging from one group to another. This kind of clarity and transparency is what will allow you to collect concerns and other feedback.

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Change Management

Changes that are handed down from top management don't always have the force they should. By the time they've percolated through the organization and have been distilled into individual responsibilities, they're often seen as cumbersome and superfluous.

Too often, workers are handed a new task or change with an explanation that more or less amounts to "just do it."

That doesn't exactly encourage buy-in.

Soon enough, you're spending so much time trying to police behavior that you fall behind or give up on the change altogether.

Even small, incremental organizational change requires large-scale buy-in. It pays to know who all the stakeholders are from the outset and how to reach them. This should be proactive, not reactive. That means collecting input before the change is implemented, not after people start complaining about it.

These changes are made with some objective in mind, so why not help everyone in an organization understand what the drivers and payoffs are? Couple that with distribution of responsibility and ownership and you will see the changes take root.

Thoughtful change management does more than just encourage uptake. The management group has a chance to anticipate risks and decide on mitigation strategies beforehand, reducing the lag time and loss that may result. They have time to consult with stakeholders and formulate a proper strategy and timeline for implementation.

Accountability

It happens in organizations every day: something goes wrong and nobody steps up. Instead of jumping into action, everyone passes the buck back and forth.

Responsibility should be distributed but still clearly defined. It can’t be so diffuse that everyone can look away and shrug when something goes wrong. However, it shouldn’t be so concentrated that it gets piled on one set of shoulders.

Accountability can be thought as part of the goal-setting process. For any desired outcome, we should be able to say when it should be done and who will ultimately be responsible for it doing it.

Don't rely on an implicit understanding. Document everything and document it clearly. Set a date for implementation and make sure the responsible parties understand exactly what is expected of them. Then, hold them accountable. Accept no excuses or blame, but require explanations for any delays or failures.

That doesn't mean you can't be flexible. Even the best laid plans can go off track. But when it does, there should be a good reason why.

(Learn about 5 Ways to Foster Accountability and Improve Safety Culture)

Equipment and Conditions

Purchasing and maintaining equipment is an involved process, requiring specialized skills from multiple arenas. You have to know what equipment is appropriate (purchasing), train operators to use it, follow standard maintenance procedures (itself a specialized task), understand the applicable codes and standards, and document everything that happens to that machinery.

Then repeat that process for every single asset you have.

(Find out How to Create a Maintenance Program for Manufacturing Facilities)

This can be a cumbersome process, to say the least. Expect it to generate reams of paperwork, to the point where you might need a dedicated team to manage the documents and them in order (yet another discipline). Safety management software is majorly streamlining this process, and not a moment too soon. If there was one safety element that needed digitization and automation, this is it.

Maintenance has a broad scope, too. It’s easy to think of it in terms of tools and equipment, but facilities also fall under that umbrella. And not just factories and warehouses - offices have a suite of maintenance requirements too that go well beyond fixing cracks and leaks.

Office comfort measures are not superfluous. And while some still harbor a bad attitude towards those that request and advocate for them, they help improve overall safety in the long term. The effects of badly designed and poorly maintained workspaces add up to make workers sick and miserable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is no less true here.

The environments we work in also make a big difference to how favorably we view our jobs. Over the last two years, many people have discovered that working from home can offer comfort, convenience, and other benefits when compared to working in a conventional office setting. It's no wonder so many are reluctant to return.

Safety professionals play a role here. They can help attend to the subtle factors that may make an office or other work environment unattractive, uncomfortable, and counterproductive. They can, for instance, observe and measure factors such as air quality, noise levels, ergonomic issues, and lighting. Even the most seemingly modern and comfortable office can feel oppressive when they don't get those factors right.

(Learn about the Top Ergonomic Issues in the Workplace)

Safety Is About Continuous Improvement

Pointing out opportunities for improvement isn't admitting defeat. It's how effective management is done.

Dedicating resources to trouble spots is the best way to close gaps and bolster the overall safety system.

Given recent statistical trends, the four areas covered in this article should be your next target. Improving on them is how we can take safety one step further and have a significant impact on working conditions.

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Written by Daniel Clark

Profile Picture of Daniel Clark

Daniel Clark is the founder and President of Clark Health and Safety Ltd., providing safety and quality consultation across various industries in Calgary, Alberta. Daniel has a Bachelor of Science degree, certification in health and safety, certificates in both CAD design and CNC, auditing certifications and the designation of Canadian Registered Safety Professional. Being raised and practicing in Calgary, the heart of Canada’s energy industry, most of Daniel’s career has been energy related. He has performed safety and quality roles from field supervision to office-based administration and management. Daniel’s consulting business has worked with organizations offering engineering services, restoration, pipeline, environmental, manufacturing and food service.

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