A Conversation on How to be an Effective Safety Professional

An interesting post was recently made by Doug Thompson in the EHSQ Elite Safety Group on LinkedIn, which prompted quite a thought provoking discussion. Mr. Thompson is a student at Columbia Southern University, and he titled his post, “Advice on how to be an effective safety professional.” He then wrote just one simple sentence, which was,

“I am requesting “any positive” tips, tricks, insight, lessons learned, on how to be an effective safety professional.”

Seems pretty straight forward, but thanks to the diverse group of people that participate in the EHSQ it really generated a lot of useful information that can be quite beneficial to many people. Let’s take a look at some of the key ideas that were discussed.

Spending Time ‘In the Field’

One of the first comments was from someone named Ranto Heriniaina Andriatsihoarana who said,

“An effective safety professional is a safety guy who knows exactly what happened on FIELD, so the guy should spend his time on the field to interact with employees about safety matters and work through…”

So, to sum that up, they are suggesting that a good safety professional needs to spend a significant amount of time in the area where they are actually trying to improve safety. While this may seem obvious at first, think about how many ‘safety professionals’ spend the vast majority of their time sitting in an office writing up policy or discussing safety theory rather than actually making concrete improvements?

Getting Real Ideas

Another comment that made a really good point was from Robert Thompson who said,

“The very fact that you reach out to learn more puts you at the top of your game. Your greatest asset is not your fancy certificates but your listening ability…”

This is a really interesting comment. A lot of people focus on learning about theories like 5S, 6 Sigma, LEAN and more, and then try to roll it out. While these are all exceptional concepts, they won’t work if employees and management don’t trust the safety professional. A safety professional really needs to be dedicating at least as much time and effort into really getting to know what it is that employees want, and what types of safety concerns they have.

Having this type of ‘hands on’ knowledge is going to be much more beneficial in the end than any type of safety certification. Of course, this is not to devalue education or certifications. It is simply to show that the education and certifications must be put at the service of the actual people who will benefit from any safety improvements.

Guiding the Organization Toward Safety

One last comment was made by Jim Loud, CSP MS MPH, who said,

“…You shouldn’t consider yourself a safety pied piper personally responsible for leading and motivating the workforce. That is not sustainable and really not your job. A better use of your time would be to guide the organizational management on strategies and systems that get everyone involved in the safety effort.”

This comment takes the discussion in a slightly different direction, and offers some great insight. To put it simply, a safety manager can do very little to directly impact the safety of a facility. Instead, he or she needs to lead employees and management in a direction that will help everyone improve safety for themselves.

By offering safety guidance and advice rather than trying to force things or do every little thing themselves, a good safety manager can effectively multiply their own efforts. Over time, this can result in far better results than would otherwise be possible.

Taking a Holistic Approach to Safety Management

In the end, this conversation really gives a lot of great ideas and thoughts that can be beneficial not only for safety managers, but also for those who work with them, and those who are considering a role in this field. Learning that safety management isn’t a ‘one man job’ that someone gets and performs will help improve performance and safety in any facility.

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