Safety Leadership: Controlling seven areas of exposure
Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA Organizational Safety and Reliability share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.
Organizations that look at workplace safety and don’t recognize the need for a sustainable approach are setting themselves up for trouble.
Data shows us the consequences of failing to address deeper systemic issues that put workers at risk. U.S. businesses lose more than $1 billion a week – or nearly $60 billion a year – because of work-related injuries, according to the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Overexertion, falls and other harmful incidents aren’t just catastrophic for the workers affected – they also contribute to decaying morale and employees losing faith in the organization.
Addressing safety issues after an injury will only solve an immediate problem. That’s because reactive measures often miss the deeper issues that led to the injury. Don’t get me wrong: Immediate responses to specific incidents matter greatly. However, organizations that move beyond “flavor of the month” safety solutions and take steps such as safety stand-downs, additional training or a new procedure are those that understand why implementing a more comprehensive approach will lower incident rates, create a happier and healthier workforce, reduce overall costs, and – ultimately – improve the bottom line.
One example I often cite to illustrate this is from 2011. It involves a new, enthusiastic, yet unqualified worker who climbed onto and operated a common piece of equipment because he just wanted to be helpful. Tragically, in this example, the worker died on his first day on the job because he mistakenly engaged a forward gear instead of the reverse gear, causing the machinery to crush him.
Organizations that don’t take safety culture seriously might call this a “one-off” incident. But we know that’s far from accurate. A fatality such as this is an inevitable expression of an unmitigated vulnerability that existed before the incident. And, unfortunately, similar events will recur unless the exposure is recognized and controlled.
So how can organizations deal with exposure to prevent this story from becoming a recurring reality of their operation? It requires understanding the elements that lead to that exposure.
At DEKRA OSR, we have identified seven:
- Leadership. How leaders set the tone, own the results and all things in between affects exposure because their messages carry weight. When leaders communicate and live their values, they inspire and influence those around them.
- Culture. How work is performed within an organization is critical. When expectations are clear and credibility is high, everyone understands how to work with each other in a safe and effective manner.
- Working interface. Here’s where people, processes and equipment come together to create value. If workers are naturally inclined to look out for each other and perform beyond their individual job requirements, safety is mutually assured.
- Human performance reliability. This area involves an understanding of the cognitive aspects of human fallibility. Safety is heightened when tasks and activities are correct the first time and every time.
- Governance. When intentions are transparent and information is shared throughout an organization, workers understand and get what they need to be safe.
- Exposure control systems. Systems that specify the processes and provide the skills necessary to work effectively will see safety consistency across teams and over time.
- Performance management. How workers are selected, motivated and rewarded for work performed will affect whether safety is sustained and aligned with job demands.
Breakdowns in safety occur when organizations fail to take deeper dives into areas where exposure may not otherwise be recognized. That needs to change. By controlling exposures, organizations can greatly reduce and, ideally, eliminate vulnerability to injury. The health and well-being of workers deserve nothing less.
This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.
William Bozzo is an award-winning environmental, safety and health professional and executive leader. He has guided numerous operations, startups, decommissions, and program implementations and integrations. As vice president at DEKRA OSR, Bozzo has extensive expertise in high-level planning for EHS, sustainability, risk management, quality assurance and strategic design.
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