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Imagine the first time a young manager-trainee (let's call him Ned) is given a supervisory position. Besides being given lots of direction related to the overall production and cost goals for the area, he is also told that safety is his responsibility, and to make sure that no one gets hurt.

In his first day on the job, our buddy Ned is on the production floor meeting people and observing the work getting done. He sees a couple of things that make him a little nervous, like the way one employee used a utility knife to cut through some baling rope. Ned chalks it up to his own inexperience. He convinces himself that the team knows what they are doing. After all, they have been doing it without him for quite a while.

At the end of the day, one of the employees comes in and tells Ned that there has been an accident. Tommy has cut his hand with a utility knife and is "bleeding pretty badly".

As it turns out, the wound was not serious, although it did become a recordable injury. And of course Ned wondered if he could have prevented it.

I've worked where the supervisor is told to make sure no one gets hurt. It's a better environment than one where no one is concerned about accidents and where injury is considered part of the job, but it still isn't going to be a safe place to work unless Ned figures out a way to shift the culture.

It has to be OK for anyone, even someone brand new to the workplace, to feel comfortable challenging the work being done with a simple question: Have we ever looked for a safer method to perform that task?

This challenge needs to be allowed, encouraged, and at times required. We can't accept practices because the bulk of the evidence suggests that they rarely result in injury. You can't just avoid injury, you have to design out the likelihood.

To help create safer workplaces, we have to have a culture of challenge. Try it on yourself the next time you take on an ordinary task around your home. Whether changing a light bulb, mowing your lawn, or trimming your shrubs, ask if there is a safer way to do the task, and then find one. You will begin to see how hard a culture of challenge really is.
Tim Gardner
Safer By Choice

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Comment by Tim Gardner on July 29, 2009 at 12:48pm
5-7 years to complete may be accurate, if by complete you mean ready for the work of sustaining, which is a whole new challenge.
You can find a thread or two about reporting near misses, even anonymously, and how that can help people see that you are serious. Especially if you can do so without fault-finding missions, but with correction in mind. Find whatever foothold you can do demonstrate the goal of improving safety to the highest degree possible.
I once did have to fire an employee who consistently reached into a machine under the claim that he knew how it worked. He couldn't, however, predict when it might fail, and so we let him go. Not for the safety violation, but for failing to respond to his team mates' requests to stop reaching in. Pick your battles.

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