Who Manages Safety?

Who truly manages safety within the workplace? Is it the managers and supervisors, or the people in the safety department? This has been a common debate in the workplace for years. In fact, in some work environments nobody really takes on this full responsibility. In these situations when an accident happens, fingers get pointed in all different directions and it is just an ugly game of blame. The truth of the matter is that having an unorganized and uncharted safety plan is inefficient and simply “unsafe.” Many business structures are set up to make the safety department in charge of all safety instruction and practices, and the supervisors and managers in charge of basic production-related issues and getting the job done. Even though this makes for clear lines between job descriptions, it is not truly efficient or considered best practice. There are many different problems that arise with the thinking that safety should be separated; here are a couple prime examples why. According to Terry Mathis on ProActSafety.com:

It creates an artificial dichotomy between productivity and safety – Workers tend to get their priorities from their immediate supervisor. When the supervisor stresses getting the job done and someone else shows up with another set of priorities like safety, the two tend to conflict. Workers begin to view safety as something that competes with their job. Safety doesn’t become the way to work, but a distraction from work. Do they do the job or focus on safety? When pay increases and promotions come from production rather than safety, the dichotomy deepens even more.

Safety is not just a “job” or an “extra task,” instead safety should be weaved into job practices without any visible lines whatsoever. When managers and supervisors demonstrate a clear understanding for safety and value safety just as production, the mindset of the employees also begins to reflect this thinking as well.

Another example of a pitfall associated with separated safety and production provided by Mathis is:

It lets production managers and supervisors “off the hook” for safety – If the safety person is in charge of safety, why should the production people worry about it? They feel free to concentrate on getting the product out the door or the services delivered. They can train people in job skills and let safety train them how to not get hurt. It drives the dichotomous thinking and excuses production from one of their key areas of responsibility. It also tends to separate the definitions of production and safety rather than establishing the more unified concept of safe production. Safety and quality should be an integral part of production and separating them creates an artificial and dangerous mentality that results in defects and accidental injuries.

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Again, the separation of safety and production sets the stage for disaster. The safety department should not be 100% to blame for accidents in the workplace. The people in the safety department can only do so much. They can put up safety signage, apply safety guards, set-up safety trainings but they are not the commanders-in-chief for each employee. Employees usually operate in the manner dictated by their immediate supervisors. Employees usually have stronger relationships with their direct supervisors versus the people in the safety department and often take their advice and guidelines a little more serious verses advice or guidelines from others. One of the best ways to get on board with overall safety is to help get supervisors and managers trained in safety practices so they can then share the information with their employees. This allows for supervisors to demonstrate and teach applicable safety practices for all employees to view and follow.

Never underestimate the power of safe work environment. When safety is integrated into all tasks and job practices, it no longer becomes visible where safety starts or ends and it just becomes about getting the work done safely and efficiently.

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