♦♦♦   SAFETY CULTURE   &   SAFETY PERFORMANCE   ♦♦♦

In this series, I share with you my thoughts on Why Safety Is An Issue For Most Companies. One of the Things We Must Address If We Want To Improve Our Safety Performance is to assist our frontline managers as they strive to pilot for success on the wings of safety.

SAFETY FIRST … Really?

The Frontline Influence on Safety Culture

Wherever I go, I hear Safety First. I have yet to come across a company where people will say safety comes second or, heaven forbid, last. They all say safety comes first, because it is the right thing to say, especially in a formal audit. It is also the message that you find in the mission statements, values and other directives generated in the board rooms.

But, what happens, there, where the cookies are made and the rubber hits the road? Does safety come first at the coal face and on the shop floor?

Often, in reality, at the heat of the furnace or in the back alleys of the factory or at the thumping production press or deep underground at the end of the night shift, safety does not come first. For those people who ‘push the buttons and use the tools’ and those who directly manage them, it is a different story. Safety has to compete with many other issues and priorities.

You might be thinking, “Has Jürgen gone nuts? Is this man who lives and preaches safety making concessions?”

Let me explain.

In most companies, there are a multitude of thrusts (often 20 or more) pushed down the organisation to drive the business forward – output, costs, quality, productivity and continuous improvement, personal performance and empowerment, research and development, to name but a few. Then there are compliance issues, laws and regulations, systems and procedures and hundreds of rules and standards, plus the need for accreditation and branding. Each department in head office, including Safety, issues instructions, requests for information and sundry other requirements. All of this has a direct and overwhelming impact on frontline managers and their teams. One of the most frequent complaints I get from this level is that they are ‘forced’ to manage on their seats instead of on their feet and that output and costs are most important!

"First and second line managers are the critical links in bringing a company’s culture to life. At Pfizer, these frontline managers strongly influence the day-to-day working environment of about 80 percent of colleagues."[1]

I could not agree more, especially a company’s safety culture.

The best way to describe the job of the frontline manager is to compare it to that of a surgeon. The surgeon cuts open the patient on the operating table to remove a tumour. He/she has to keep an eye on the vital signs, watch out for bleeding, make instant decisions and balance all the options. There is no time to read the manual and there are no second chances.

In a similar manner, safety is just one of many concerns that the frontline manager needs to take into consideration. This means that we have a responsibility to help the frontline managers to manage the total risk and balance the priorities within the limited resources at their disposal. Why? Simply because, often, when safety is held in the balance against, for example, production, it is the safety ball that will be dropped as it is perceived to have the least direct consequences. This is a tough call for us safety professionals, especially when it comes to influencing and supporting the safety culture at the frontline.

For many years I have used the analogy of an airplane to illustrate to the people who ‘push the buttons and use the tools’ how all these business elements, including safety, need to work together in order for the company to prosper.

picture of an airplane showing how various business elements work together for prosperity

The engines are those things which drive the business forward and result in profit. These are normally Output, Costs, People, Continuous Improvement and the like. Depending on the kind of business, sales & marketing, research & development and customer service & support also add to the profits. The key message here is balance in the thrust provided by all the engines. You cannot fly if you put all the power on say the Cost engine and throttle the other engines in the process.

The airframe consists of the wings and the fuselage. The wings represent safety and support the engines. The wings have to be strong and flexible at the same time. In addition to that, the wings provide the lift, critical for the plane to remain airborne and reach a safe cruising level.

Safety does not directly contribute to profits,
but it supports all those activities that do
.

The fuselage consists of those items which you will normally find in the company’s values and mission statements. These include Quality, Care & Respect, Fairness, Honesty & Integrity, Communication, Teamwork, Excellence, Accountability & Reliability, Innovation & Creativity and Recognition & Rewards.

The dashboard of the airplane shows the pilot (frontline manager) the target – what is the destination, cruising height & speed, direction, as well as other critical parameters. In order to use this information, there has to be constant measurement and feedback to the pilot so that appropriate action can be taken timeously to ensure a safe flight.

ACTION

  • Use the above analogy of an airplane to explain to all employees why safety plays such a key role, but that it also has to be balanced with all the other priorities.
  • Organise facilitated workshops with the frontline managers to ask them what you, as safety professionals, should be doing to help them with SAFETY. Give them “Einspruchsrecht”[2].
  • Change your approach to toolbox / safety talks. Rather than glossing over safety for a few minutes every day at the start of shift / production meetings, hold a specific session once a week or once every two weeks and dedicate half an hour to focus purely on safety. Prepare a number of specific toolbox talks for the frontline manager to use to focus on safety.[3]

[1]    “Shape your culture, shape your company’s future“, Ian C Read, Pfizer.
[2]    “Einspruchsrecht” – a person’s right to partake in decisions which affect him/her.
[3]    DIY Safety

RELATED LINKS

Put on An Overall

Under the Knife

Toolbox Talks – Ask me for help with these, in need.

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