Building Ownership for Safety: Is Your Safety Culture Integrated?

Building Ownership for Safety: Is Your Safety Culture Integrated?Last issue we looked at the first of two principles of employee engagement that may impact ownership of a safety culture. That principle can be stated as follows:

Engagement Principle #1: When a responsibility is relegated to a special person or a designated team, it is abdicated by everyone else.

There we made the application that to maximize Operation’s ownership for safety at the front lines, they need to be the ones leading the safety culture. But we added that we also need to be aware of a second principle of engagement:

Engagement Principle #2: When a responsibility is treated as an added task, it “gets in the way of real work,” and the initiative fails.

10-things-sl-stylesObviously, based on this second principle we’ll need to be careful about just how we’re transferring safety to Operations. It can’t be perceived as an add-on to what they are already doing, else our efforts will fail. Instead, it must be integrated and made a central part of the job. So how do we accomplish this?

Integrating the Safety Culture

In a previous article that I authored on safety-culture change, I made the point that safety culture must be firmly grounded in the existing organizational culture if it’s to be sustainable. Let’s start there.

The safety culture, first and foremost, must be woven into the organization’s existing culture and have its tentacles in all existing processes. The examples I gave there included HR processes such as recruiting and hiring, interviewing, reward and recognition programs, promotions, succession planning, etc. The same level of interwovenness must be active on the Operations side.

Leading safety (not just complying with it) must be made part of the job itself. One way to do that is by rewriting the job descriptions for each position so that they include level-appropriate safety-leadership activities or competencies. Credit for this idea goes to a reader of my previous series, who suggested that it be included as part of the HR process integration that I cited above.

What to Revise

Identify the activities and behaviors that you would like to see exhibited by front-line employees, supervisors, managers and other leaders, and include them as part of their per-level job descriptions. New expectations for frontline employees may include conducting regular safety observations, mentoring newer employees on safe work practices, leading toolbox meetings, rotations on a safety committee, serving as part of the oversight and maintenance team of a safety program (e.g., LOTO, fall protection, workplace ergonomics), etc. fctc-online-banner

New expectations for a supervisor or manager might include activities like regular safety-leadership walkthroughs, monthly one-on-one coaching sessions with direct reports that are focused on safety and safety-leadership performance and behaviors, observing and coaching toolbox meetings and other safety engagements, communicating and reinforcing the safety culture, etc.

The point is, each jobs needs to be redefined so that safety and safety-leadership become an integral part of it.  Next issue well explore some additional ways to build operational ownership of safety, but that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES


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Eric Svendsen

Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.

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