Safety culture

Team players

Strengthening the relationship between safety pros and frontline supervisors

Photo: kali9/iStockphoto

Safety is never a solo job. To succeed, safety professionals need to form partnerships at all levels of the organization – especially with frontline supervisors who oversee workers day in and day out.

“Supervisors, after all, set the daily tone for the company,” said Chuck Douros, corporate director of safety for Nashville, TN-based BFC Solutions. “They deliver the priorities, they establish the pace, they set the attitude for the day. So, teaching frontline leaders to proactively coach for performance and safety is one of the most powerful things a safety professional can do for the organization.”

Frontline supervisors also are responsible for many safety-related functions – from inspections and observations to making sure workers are properly qualified, trained and equipped to perform their jobs. This means their support can make or break a safety program, said Amy Harper, senior director of workplace training and consulting at the National Safety Council, which offers training through its Supervisors’ Safety Development Program.

“Supervisors are the linchpin to company safety being implemented enthusiastically or undermined,” Harper said. “They’re either the friend or the foe of safety – there’s not a lot of middle ground.”

And that’s where matters get tricky, because not all supervisors are eager to cooperate with safety programs or make them a top priority, and even those who are willing aren’t always effective safety leaders. Safety+Health asked Douros, Harper and other experts to identify the root causes of problems safety pros face in developing supervisors as safety leaders, and to provide practical solutions.

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