Workplace safety is an important task, which everyone in a facility will play a role. The safety manager (or other similar position) will do most of the planning, training and other tasks, but the bottom line is, if everyone doesn’t play their part, no amount of safety planning will be helpful. Whenever discussing workplace safety, it is important to understand that it is an ongoing journey of improvement, and not a onetime event.
It’s common to hear people talk about in safety advancement in binary terms (something is there or it is not, something is “good” or “bad”). But the truth is that safety improvement, like a lot of improvement processes, consists of stages. The different things that go into safety performance (think systems, leadership, culture, etc.) are not static switches that are either on or off. They are fluid states that have discernible stages of progression—from the dormant to the fully actualized. And as a fluid state, it is possible to regress as well as progress. – Rebecca Nigel
With this in mind, all employers should be encouraging everyone to help identify risks, and propose potential solutions. Getting everyone involved in safety improvement can keep the company moving forward, and minimize any regression that may take place as well. There are many changes in a facility which can change as a result of improved safety, and it is important to identify them and make sure they aren’t preventing further progress from being made.
- Loss of Focus – Many companies will invest both time and money if they experience a series of accidents, or if they are at risk of getting fined due to safety issues. Once the safety record has improved, however, they back off on this focus. When a company moves their focus away from safety, it can quickly cause them to slide back into old and unsafe standards.
- Becoming Reactive – Once a company has improved their safety to a point where they are meeting all the regulatory requirements, they might stop actively looking for improvement opportunities. If there is an accident, they might investigate it and attempt to put in new steps to prevent it from happening again, which is good, but it is not enough. Instead, the companies should always be on the lookout for how to avoid accidents before they actually occur.
- Narrow Focus – Companies may find that once they have eliminated all the obvious safety risks, they start getting too narrowly focused on any future safety improvements. For example, if a company finds a potential risk in one area, they may take very specific steps to fix that particular problem, without looking at how it will affect the rest of the facility. Reducing risk in one area may lead to increased risk in another, so it is always essential to evaluate all safety improvements based on how it will affect the entire facility.
- Single Point of Failure – Most companies that are of sufficient size will have one person, or department, that is directly responsible for overseeing the safety of the workplace. While this is good to have, it is also important that everyone knows that it is their responsibility to help improve safety as well. If a company has gotten to the point where employees feel very safe at work, everyone may just leave any future safety innovations in the hands of the safety department. This can end up causing a lot of missed opportunities for safety improvement.
hile safety improvements are always a good thing, it is important that companies don’t make the mistake of losing focus. Regardless of current safety numbers and statistics in a given facility, it is always essential to keep pushing forward for constant improvement in the area of workplace safety.
Resource: Rebecca Nigel, 3 Things that Change as You Get Better at Safety 7, June 2013
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