We have heard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the industry that, for a safety program to be effective, management must be involved. What does that mean? Do they only fund the program? Does management hire just one person to oversee safety? Is the upper management of the company aware of all the safety issues that have been encountered on the job? What are some of the key indicators of job site safety and awareness? This is a perfect opportunity for us to explore these questions: support, total upper management involvement, accountability, site supervisory selections and the key indicators of job site compliance. This article examines how management should be involved with safety in their organization.
For any safety program to work, it must have the support and funding to promote safety because no program can be effective without the right resources. Upper management and owners establish a safety budget and determine the programs each company will pursue as part of their individual programs. The amount or return on investment is directly proportional to how effective the program is. Companies that spend a bare minimum often still have major issues and incidents that can affect their ability to be successful when bidding on work. The companies that see safety as an investment strive to put forth adequate funding and management involvement in all decisions related to their safety programs and policies.
Another important part of having an effective safety program is getting upper level managers involved. Company safety policies can address this. When a safety director is hired, upper level managers tend to think all safety issues are being effectively handled. They sometimes neglect the role of demonstrating safety involvement at the management level. How many project managers actually walk a job site with safety in mind before a progress meeting? How many project managers know all the safety requirements? Being familiar with common hazards and being able to recognize hazardous conditions is part of the project manager’s responsibility. How else can a project manager lead by example if he or she says nothing about an observed potential hazardous condition? Yes, it is true that most project managers are more concerned about production and costs and leave safety to the safety director. In reality, those who put safety first have better jobs and more profitable jobs in the long run.
Often contractors will track first aid and recordable injuries by the division or project manager in charge. This helps to identify managers who take an expressed interest in safety on their projects. When the majority of a contractor's incidents and accidents have any commonality between them, the issue or cause should be identified to see if a change might stop the occurrences. The “just do it” or “get 'er done” mentality often does not yield safe workplaces, and if that is the culture, upper management should take the lead in instituting change.
Choosing field managers who have background knowledge of safety principles and regulations is another factor in establishing a good safety culture on the job. Requiring these field supervisors to have completed at least the OSHA 30-hour training demonstrates that they are aware of what to watch out for to keep their employees safe on the job. Since many projects have multiple trades working in the same area at the same time, being familiar with the work the other trades are doing and what exposures to watch out for is critical.
Requiring a manager to accept responsibility and accountability for creating an organized work environment also goes a long way in establishing a good safety climate. One example of an owner’s assessment tool is observing project managers and foremen on a job and witnessing how organized the office and material trailers are kept. If both of these areas are cluttered, unorganized and in disarray, this may trigger concerns that there is not a commitment to watching out for employee safety and historical data shows that to be true. An employee tripping over material in the storage trailer has led to broken bones and lacerations. Not being able to find documentation of safety meetings or job site orientations in the office trailer shows a lack of planning and organization, unfortunately by design of some of the foreman because they had not completed these required tasks. Once these individuals have been identified, management must intervene to quickly address these issues and educate these supervisors in proper procedures.
It is also important for management to be familiar with and enforce company policies and have a disciplinary plan of action and to make sure that it is applied uniformly to all employees. Having a road map to consistently address these situations is essential for all to follow. Anytime that there is a deviation from established company policies and procedures, it weakens the safety program overall and workers question the company’s commitment to safety. No safety director or project manager wants to give out written warnings but the fact is to properly address safety, verbal and written warning must handed out. All written warnings should reference any verbal warnings that were previously given and must be filed properly in case there is a need for future use. Documentation is vitally important in the safety arena.
The other side of constructive discipline is that is it must be consistent in how it is applied. The same rules must consistently apply to all employees. Just because an employee has been with the company for a long time, he or she should not lessen any of the actions or warnings given for due process. We know some new employees are hired and are in an initial probationary period for the first few months but any heinous actions by any employee could lead to immediate disciplinary action or even dismissal. Management must also be aware of any customer rules and policies that their employees must work under per contractual obligations. A customer may have programs on substance abuse and PPE must be followed by all employees, if the company is going to continue to perform work at that facility.
Management personnel have a huge responsibility to be an integral part of the company’s safety program, no matter how large or small the company is. Managers and supervisory personnel should always participate in walk through inspections, disciplinary actions, and safety meetings if a company is to demonstrate a properly managed commitment to overall safety.
About The Author
WHEELER, SMS, CESCP, is NECA’s executive director of safety and is a Safety Management Specialist through the BCSP and Certified Electrical Safety Compliance Professional through NFPA. He is technical committee member on NFPA 70, the National Electrical Code, Code-Making Panels, and a former technical committee member on NFPA 70E. He also served as an employer representative on the OSHA ACCSH Committee from 2019-2023. Reach him at [email protected].