Deb Potter

Article Summary:

A workplace safety article aimed at management. Techniques and tips to create an injury-free workplace.

Workplace Safety Article: Avoiding Corporate Complacency

Every day in the United States on the average, 15 workers lose their lives as a result of injuries or illnesses related to their work - that's over 5700 people. These people leave behind families, friends, and co-workers. The single most common cause is complacency - an attitude that "it won't happen to me."

Complacency Kills The Entire Organization
Too often individuals and companies become complacent when it comes to safety. Managers are satisfied with mediocre safety performance and do not work to improve the environment by raising safety awareness and eliminating the potential for injury. Employees are content and are not attentive to their work environments. They become convinced that management is not concerned about safety. They begin to think they are not responsible for their own safety. Over time, the entire organization gives little meaningful attention to safety.

The result is that employees begin to get in a hurry and take shortcuts on the job. They are more focused on production and getting the job done than getting it done safely. That attitude becomes an organizational norm. Near misses go unreported. No one wants to take the time to fill out forms and employees don't understand the connection between sharing information and eliminating injuries. Managers do not pay attention to reports, so they become unimportant. The number of injuries increases and they become more severe. Everyone becomes frustrated. Employees blame management and management blames employees, yet no one is willing to take action to improve the situation. Unfortunately, it often takes a fatal injury to cause everyone to focus on safety. Don't let this happen to your organization.

The Complacency Trap - Don't Become Distracted By Pressing Issues
Research shows that many incidents occur because people are distracted and do not pay attention to their environment and what is going on around them. Managers often fall into the same trap - they become distracted by pressing issues such as the organization's need to increase productivity, improve quality, and raise profits. They stop paying attention to the importance of safety in the organization and become blinded to the fact that the lack of attention to safety performance is injuring the organization in the long run. In other words, they become complacent.

When managers and supervisors do not make safety a top priority in the organization, it is easy for employees to make personal safety a low priority. Then incidents and injuries occur with increasing frequency. There are two things that must happen to avoid this potentially deadly situation.

  1. Managers must renew their commitment to the safety process
  2. Employees must get involved in meaningful safety activities.

Managers - Get Committed!
It takes more than just saying you are committed to safety - you have to put actions behind your words. Managers can demonstrate their commitment to safety in a number of ways. First and foremost, managers must follow the company's safety rules. Then, regularly attend safety meetings. Also consider the following ideas.

  • Take time to walk around and talk to employees.
    Visit employees in their workplaces whether on the shop floor, in the field, or in the office. Talk about your personal concern for safety, and then listen to their concerns. Take personal action to correct unsafe situations and follow up to let employees know the outcomes.
  • Make it a point to personally review all reports of near misses and injuries.
    When managers review reports of injuries and near misses, it demonstrates the information's importance. Follow up on the reports to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to eliminate the causes of incidents in your organization that could result in larger, bigger direct hits. Take care to ensure that your follow up is a positive action rather than a punitive one.
  • Integrate safety into all aspects of management planning.
    During the organizational planning process include safety goals and objectives then ensure that the budget includes appropriate items for safety improvement. Communicate your organization's safety performance expectations goals, objectives to the management level and to your employees. To encourage a sustainable change in the safety culture of your organization, make it a point to review your organization's progress.
  • Enable employees to get involved in the safety process.
    Identify areas where employees can become actively involved in the safety process and encourage their participation by allowing work time for appropriate activities. Ask employees with specific skills or interests to participate in safety improvement projects. Then recognize their involvement and efforts.

Managers at all levels of the organization can have a profound effect on the safety culture of an organization by following these suggestions. Once they see their supervisors and managers taking safety seriously, employees in turn will be more committed than ever. And, nothing energizes an organization's safety improvement efforts more than employee involvement.

Other Ways To Get Employees Involved In Your Organization's Safety Planning and Process:
First, make employees aware of how they can get involved in the safety process. Involvement can come in many different forms. Encourage employees to get involved in the following activities and others:

  • Reporting all unsafe conditions
  • Attending safety meetings
  • Serving on employee safety committees
  • Planning and leading a safety meeting
  • Participating in incident investigations and facility walk-throughs
  • Engaging in conversations with supervisors and managers to share improvement ideas

Employees whose ideas and involvement are valued will increase safety performance faster than employees who are just simply following the rules. Create opportunities for employees to contribute ideas and information that will lead to safety improvement.

Stamp out Complacency to Create a Safety-Focused Organization
To create a culture in your organization where injuries are a thing of the past, remind everyone that complacency is a dangerous thing - it's a killer. Find ways to pique employees' interest in finding ways to make safety improvements. Create motivation for positive change in the organization by believing that it's possible to have zero injuries in your organization and communicating that belief to employees. Show employees the relevance of working safe to their jobs, careers, paychecks, and, most importantly, their families. This will create an environment where everyone at every level in the organization will increase their commitment and their involvement in making the workplace injury-free. The result is that everyone can go home every day to their families without injury.

Dr. Deb Potter knows how to help organizations create a safety culture where everyone at every level is committed to a safe workplace.

After 27 years in professional and management positions in Fortune 100 companies, she joined Potter and Associates International in the business of helping organizations successfully evaluate their safety management programs so that everyone can go home without injury every day.

Deb holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University and a PhD in Organization Management and Business from Capella University. She is the author of Simply Seamless Safety and the editor of the weekly Safety Spot News. For more information, visit www.debpotter.com.

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