Safety Leader

Moving Safety to the Front of the Line

Image Source/ Enespro PPE
Image Source/ Enespro PPE

Make workers buy in to your safety program

No safety program can be successful if those tasked with implementing it don’t believe in it. Safety professionals must encourage front-line staff to take ownership over their work and safety for a program to be effective. To accomplish this, a safety professional needs to become a strong communicator and motivator. Yes, there are still numbers to watch, and training and compliance issues to take care of, but the real value is putting safety on the front line.

The electrical industry has some of the best trained individuals in the world. These are the folks who know what it takes to do the job and get it done in a manner that not only meets customers’ demands but also lets them and their fellow crew members go home each night. Taking advantage of that expertise is the key not only to the success of the project, but it also assists in workers taking ownership of their own and fellow crew members’ safety.

The question is, how do you do that? The key is employee buy-in or engagement. Sounds simple, but it’s far from that. Often the difficulty lies in changing management style. Too many managers explain a job something like this: “We need to do X. Our timeline is X. Now get it done!”

That method may have worked in the past, but in today’s competitive environment, industry management needs to make changes in how the work is completed and how they interact with employees.

To change that dynamic, I suggest using a three-step pro- cess to bring about a more engaged workforce. This can be done before the crew leaves the yard or office and arrives to the job site, and reinforced again during the safety analysis at the work site.

The steps are: 

  1. Discuss with employees what the job is
  2. Communicate why the job is necessary beyond just the customer request
  3. Seek input into how the job can be completed in the safest and most economical way.

Giving employees the opportunity to have input into various jobs creates a sense of ownership. It changes how the crew thinks about the jobs they work. The mindset shifts from completing the work order to “Here’s our project, and this is how we’re going to accomplish it.”

How does this help create safer work sites? Well, this type of communication gives you the opportunity to highlight potential safety hazards and discuss ways to mitigate expo- sure to them by engaging the crew and seeking their input in ways to keep everyone safe.

Rather than run through a typical checklist process, you can reinforce the job-site safety analysis by having a discussion on the potential hazards associated with the specific job at hand. This not only helps to create ownership over a project, but it also demonstrates that management trusts and believes in their employees’ abilities. Once ownership and trust are established, employee buy-in is almost a byproduct of the job. The crew can now see the potential hazards, how they can control and eliminate them and use their skills to complete the job safely.

Understandably, the safety professional cannot be at every job. That’s why it is essential that front-line supervisors and general foremen have the necessary tools to execute the process above through properly training management and foremen.

If we are serious about moving safety to the front line, then we have to make that commitment. This involves conducting the supervisory training necessary, the company giving safety professionals the ability to make these organizational changes and most of all trusting the workforce.

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or cklk3@yahoo.com.

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