It’s Not a Safety “Culture” Unless the Office Side is Included

It’s Not a Safety “Culture” Unless the Office Side is IncludedAs I mentioned in the first article of this series, it’s all too common for the back-office of a plant or the corporate headquarters of a company to feel (or actually be!) exempted from involvement in the safety culture. Safety is reduced to something that is far away, or a hypothetical – “I’ll be mindful of safety when and if – and only when and if – I am compelled by a business reason to visit a plant or facility where safety matters.”

That might be slightly exaggerated, but not by much. True, office personnel don’t have the same opportunities for involvement in a safety culture as someone on the floor, but that doesn’t mean there should be no opportunities.

Let me be clear here. By involvement in the safety culture, I’m not referring to maintaining safety compliance, wearing PPE when needed, or ensuring I don’t create a trip hazard with my power strip. That’s a given; and if it’s not, we have some remedial work to do with the back office! What I’m referring to is involvement in leading a safety culture in various ways, or at the very least being present and available during scheduled safety-leadership activities. 10-things-safety-culture-change-plan

For instance, a work crew that is holding its daily pre-shift meeting in the plant, the yard, or facility easily lends itself to interaction with office personnel. The goal would be to blend insights, network together, build relationships of trust between departments, and provide a setting where both sides begin to better understanding what the other does on a daily basis, as well as the risks they face. As an added benefit, it’s an opportunity for the office side to learn from first-hand accounts what the company does to make money and what it takes to do that safely.

The same opportunities are inherent in monthly safety meetings, required annual compliance training, toolbox meetings, and even department meetings. The presence of office personnel at a production meeting reinforces the notion that they understand their support role in the organization. They are there to listen and take notes about the priorities and values of the production team, to figure out what they need, to clarify the process of providing the needed support, and to immerse themselves in the safety culture.

But that must eventually become more than just passive participation and observation. Eventually it should transition into equally valuable contributions by office personnel in those gatherings. They should be leading the safety culture in their own right and from their perspective. That could be calling attention to potential hazards in common-use areas that might impact all employees (corridors, pedestrian walkways, breakrooms, restrooms, etc.). Or it could be to talk about home safety or other safety topics that would be relevant to all.

FCTC OnlineThe key for success with this, as with anything else, is not to let this become a stagnant exercise in “going through the motions.” This requires leadership and persistence. To get the ball rolling start with your most fully engaged employees. Let them model what this would look like to their coworkers. Rather than ask them to attend to fulfill a requirement, ask them to take the lead on it and make it successful. While you might suggest some starting points and other details of what it would look like, be sure to give them ultimate ownership and decision-making authority over it. A truly engaged employee will step up to the challenge and will appreciate the opportunity to own it.

There are many other opportunities that office personnel can be involved in as well, such as process-improvement teams that include floor employees. They can also serve on safety committees, conduct safety observations (both out on the floor and in their own office space!), lead pre-job safety meetings for the back office itself, or conduct toolbox meetings on required annual compliance training to show how that broad topic might apply to their work area.

The point is, be creative and keep yourself open to all possibilities. And remember, it’s just as important for office personnel to be actively involved in the safety culture as it is for any other employee. We’ll also look at some additional things we might suggest for office supervisors and staff managers in our next article, but that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES

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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