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About 15 years ago, I managed all the hiring and orientation of employees in a new manufacturing mill. Although many people thought that greenfield hiring and training would be an easy path to a strong safety culture, they were wrong.
The challenge is that when you hire people who are willing to express their opinions, and who have worked in many other businesses and industries, they all bring their biases to the job, and reaching a common culture is hard stuff.
To help assure we had a good foundation, we hired a safety professional who had a philosophy that was similar to the plant leadership. The original leaders did not, at first, want to have a safety leader for the location, as their past experience told them that safety leaders end up owning safety to a degree that others no longer saw safety as their accountability.
But since we had not proven successful at managing safety based on good will, I got the OK to hire someone who had a series of safety improvements to his credit.
I then proceeded to introduce him to everyone this way: "This is Scott, and he is not the safety manager".
I remember the first time I did that, Scott was a little surprised. But he understood exactly where I was going. For the next several years we used his expertise to create an environment where everyone was their own safety manager, teams cultivated experts in safety systems and investigation processes, and we experienced the best performance for similar facilities in our company.
It wasn't easy. We terminated employees for failure to respond to a team member's request to stop work until they could find a safer way. We disciplined employees for doing things in the name of productivity that compromised their safety. And people got it.
Whether you are fortunate enough to work a start up or are working in a work system that has lots of tradition behind it, I believe it's possible to make real change happen. To get to zero accidents. It's all a matter of working safely one minute at a time, one day at a time, one week, one month and one year at a time. Everyone has to accept the fact that ultimately, they are their own safety manager. You are just there to help them be the best safety manager they can be.
Let's all be careful out there.
Safer By Choice

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Comment by Tim Gardner on July 1, 2009 at 10:42am
Thanks for your feedback. I can understand your point on the idea of everyone as their own safety manager. This would not only be wishful thinking in terms of all compliance issues alone. Not to mention it would be an inefficient approach for any company. Both in this and my following post, I tried to reinforce the importance of having a specialist.
Thanks again!
Comment by Phil La Duke on July 1, 2009 at 10:09am

I couldn't agree more with your contention that building a safety culture in a greenfield operation is not easy. I am currently working with a manufacturer who just built a greenfield operation in Mexico. Because there wasn't an existing culture that was antagonistic to safety many among the plant manager didn't think our intervention, SafetyIMPACT! was truly necessary. What they soon realized was that a) people brought baggage and bad habits from the cultures of former employers and b) it is extremely difficult to change your culture as it develops without outside expertise in organizational development.

Im not sure I would agree that "Everyone has to accept the fact that ultimately, they are their own safety manager." it's a nice sentiment, but a good safety manager, or as I prefer safety coach is essential for ensuring legal compliance, providing insight into the best way to ensure a process improvement doesn't create a safety hazard in another area of the process, help in interpreting injury trends. I have seen so many behavior-based/recognition and reward safety programs that blame the victim and encourage under reporting of injuries. In essence most of these programs are trying to make the workplace safer solely by telling people to be more careful.

Phil La Duke

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