By Carl Potter, CSP and Deb Potter, PhD
Safety discussions often lead to conversations about which rules and regulations will drive us to a zero-injury workplace. The issue is that many workers know the rules and regulations but don’t know how to apply them to ensure no one gets hurt. If we measure safety success by how many injuries occur, it could be as King Solomon stated: “We are just chasing the wind.”
Numbers are elusive. Many companies attempt to reach some industry benchmark such as “top quartile” or “best in class.” The difficulty is in the comparison, and many groups spend much effort making sure they are using the same types of measurements. In a review of work teams, divisions and companies that have the lowest number of injuries and an overall safety process, we found that they measure their success around three areas that can be measured and improved: planning, training and maintaining.
Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Describing what the ultimate goal is can be difficult for some organizations—particularly if the goal is not stated in terms of a number. Determine what safety success looks like in your company. Then determine what the gap is between the current state of safety and the desired results. Bridging the gap is what planning is all about. Many times companies are throwing ideas “against the wall” to see what sticks.
Planning is not the easiest part of safety because it takes work. Identifying where you are in the process by conducting a formal hazard assessment is a good place to start. This assessment results in the identification of hazards that must be targeted for risk mitigation. Once you know what to mitigate, plans should result in a budget of time and money to address the issues. Mitigating hazards in the workplace is a fundamental process in creating a zero-injury workplace. A key tool for reducing risk is the development of skills through a solid training process.
Training for safety success goes beyond what many organizations refer to as “mandatory compliance training.” It also goes beyond corrective action. Have you ever been sent to training because you failed? Maybe you had a vehicle incident and your boss sent you to defensive driver training. This is a typical reaction of many companies, and, without realizing what they have done, employees are put on the defensive because the training is viewed as punitive. Consequently, little actual learning takes place. Other times, training seems like punishment because of the trainer’s lack of ability or subject knowledge. The primary thought for most employees is, “This is a waste of time.”
Most skilled professionals value training. When training is delivered in a way that allows the participant to see why they need it, they are open to learning. To be effective, the training must be at a level that is not below their current knowledge. It’s fine to review basic concepts, but maximum learning takes place when participants are challenged with new concepts and applications. Training must be purposeful and not left to chance. Just like machines, people must be maintained, and training cannot occur only on rainy days and when the company has time.
Maintaining skills in a professional environment is crucial to creating a zero-injury workplace. When a skilled worker continues to work day in and day out without perfecting and honing his or her skills, complacency sets in. Highly skilled workers can get into bad habits and become over confident—leading to injuries when skills are not maintained through purposeful training. Imagine professionals such as doctors who studied their work in college and never returned to a learning environment for 10 years. Would you want your family to see such a doctor for a medical crisis? Make sure you take responsibility for not only your technical skills, but also your safety knowledge. New techniques and applications can help you maintain yourself for safety success.
Move Yourself Forward for Safety Success
If you work as a skilled professional in a high-risk environment, consider planning, training and maintaining for your personal development. Where do you want to be 10 years from now in your career? Where are you today in relation to where you want to be? What training could you do to improve your chances of being where you want to be in 10 years? How long has it been since you have been in a position to maintain your skills? Plan your future, but plan your next move, too.
At the beginning of each job, plan your work so that neither you nor anyone else will be injured. Train yourself to know the rules; follow the rules and learn why the rules exist. Then maintain your competency as a skilled professional and don’t wait for your company to maintain your skills; take control and make sure you are the top hand who targets high-quality work and hits the target—that no one gets hurt on any job. This is the measure of safety success.
About the authors: Carl Potter is a board-certified safety professional (CSP) and a certified management consultant (CMC). He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and corporate safety-focused events. Carl can be contacted at email@example.com. Deb Potter, PhD, is a certified management consultant (CMC), and specializes in safety management for high-industry. She works with leaders at all levels of organizations to develop zero-injury cultures. Deb can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.