Health and Safety by Design
Eliminating workplace injuries starts with being proactive about safety actions.
By James E. Davis, CSP, PG, F.SAME
Billions of dollars are spent each year as the result of workplace injuries and accidents. Associated direct and indirect costs include loss of work time, equipment repair, and curtailed production, as well as costs associated with regulatory investigations, fines, and legal actions. These injuries and accidents can be prevented by focusing on proactive safety actions.
Proactive safety actions have now become a client requirement within many industries, and common selection criteria for many opportunities. There are a number of proactive actions that can improve safety either on a particular job, or throughout a company’s enterprise.
- Health and Safety Plan Development
- Project health and safety reviews
- Sharing stories and lessons learned
- Employee empowerment
- Stop work authority
- Hazard recognition and control
- Employee positive recognition programs
- Predicting and recognizing changing site conditions
- Employee training
- Start meetings with a Safety story
- Establishing zero mishap goals at the individual, project, office, and overall organizational levels
- Subcontractor due diligence reviews
- New Employee Orientation, training, and mentorship
- Incident Intervention
TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS
In particular, employee empowerment (EE) is one of the most effective actions an organization can take to create a culture of safety. EE includes expanded employee engagement in all work tasks, safety by design, maintaining a positive attitude with “out of the box” ideas, and stop work authority. An effective EE program requires extensive pre-work planning, which involves four key components: new employee education and participation; employee training and establishing work expectations; organization; and vision elements and expected outcomes.
New Employee Education and Participation. The first component of the EE program is the implementation of a buddy system. All employees who have been with the company for 12 months or less are assigned a mentor who oversees their activities, ensures the new employee develops safe work habits, improves natural skills, leverages their strengths, and does not complete a task in a way that will harm someone or the environment. Careful thought to forming such pairings is crucial: if employees with conflicting personalities are paired together, the result may be corrosive rather than positive.
Employee Training and Establishing Work Expectations. It is extremely important for employees to have previous training in the tasks to which they are assigned. Although training can be a never-ending list depending on the organization and/or regulatory requirements, the most important aspect of training is that it be current and task-specific, including emergency response actions. Each employee should be expected to plan their respective work task(s) to eliminate or mitigate adverse effects to self, others, and the environment. Concurrently, management must develop positive work expectations: for safety behavior to become a goal of each employee, positive actions must be recognized and communicated in a positive manner.
Ensuring design and construction projects incur zero injuries begins with taking proactive safety measures. PHOTO COURTESY POND
Organization. The third component in pre-work planning is identifying an organizational structure and selecting team members who possess confidence, a positive attitude, and feel empowered to make day-to-day decisions. Each team position requires the skills, the talents, and the type of personality ideal for maximizing the team’s capabilities.
In fact, a large number of skills may be required to complete tasks:
Strategy - Activities designed to mobilize resources toward desired outcomes
Structure - Formal relationships, roles, and responsibilities needed to organize and accomplish work
Systems - Process, or set of processes, that links and orders activities to enable work to be done and goals to be achieved
Systems-Thinking - Strengths of character and capacity, knowledge, understanding, judgment, and skills required to accomplish a task
Customers - Interests need to be considered and aligned with all organizational activities
Values - Essential characteristics or attributes promoted by the organization to motivate the behavior of all members of the organization
Leadership - The manner in which a leader uses his or her strengths, talents, values, knowledge, judgment, and attitudes to lead others toward desired organizational outcomes
Each position in the organizational structure has defined responsibilities with respect to production, quality, and health and safety. The most important aspect of EE is that each employee, regardless of their position on the organizational chart, has the unquestioned ability and duty to stop any job or activity that poses an imminent threat to human health or the environment. Every employee must be allowed to exercise that ability without fear of reprisal. Every stop-work action should be documented, and the associated lessons learned shared with all others engaged in similar tasks.
The most important aspect of EE is that each employee, regardless of their position on the organizational chart, has the unquestioned ability and duty to stop any job or activity that poses an imminent threat to human health or the environment.
Vision Elements and Expected Outcomes. Effective leadership supported by engaged and empowered employees who are provided a long-term, forward-thinking vision is critical to overall performance and the prevention of industrial incidents and accidents. The short- and long-term vision should incorporate all management objectives and be communicated to the teams who are expected to make vision a reality and complete the overall mission. Vision elements should incorporate the organization’s core values and provide a framework that empowers employees to make decisions that will enhance operations and eliminate hazardous conditions. Vision elements should also consider future resources that are strategic to executing the vision.
Employees often work together for many long hours. The work may be so intense that at times employees spend more time with each other than with friends and family. Such periods of intense work often trigger a sense of “communal relationship” in which employees begin to understand and know each other’s likes, dislikes, “pet peeves,” and other personal traits. Communal relationships are where EE is most effective and most rewarding. Taking personal responsibility for each other’s actions in the workplace results in positive relationships. Care must be taken, however, to teach teams that direction must be constructive, be delivered in a positive manner, and must not be punitive. Positive actions toward health and safety implementation are expected to become second nature. Even when two employees are not friends, the resulting interdependent culture developed from communal behavior traits will, for the most part, supersede any negatives, and result in a positive attitude.
When organizations achieve the level of health and safety success that includes the evolution of an interdependent culture in which all employees take personal responsibility for the actions of themselves and each other, a world-class perpetual culture of safety begins to emerge, and can be sustained throughout the work environment.
MAKING SAFETY SECOND NATURE
Focusing on proactive safety actions, encouraging relationship development, mandating individual accountability, and reinforcing overall team commitment are the building blocks for the evolution of a sustainable workplace culture of safety interdependence. Each of these elements fosters the development of a workplace environment where employees at all levels take responsibility for health and safety, which ultimately becomes second nature.
When a proactive and interdependent culture of safety is established, injury prevention and elimination becomes an operational reality, and significantly contributes to the success of the organization and its stakeholders.