Q: Who is Responsible for Safety?

Written by Carl Potter, CSP, CMC

A: You Are!

In years past, the question of who is responsible for safety was answered with “Everyone Is”!  Today, we have transitioned to an improved level of responsibility that focuses on you, the individual.  For many people, the word responsibility evokes a sense of someone being blamed for something they did not do that someone believed they should have done.  To clarify and continue to improve our abilities to create workplaces where it is difficult to get hurt, we must identify roles and responsibilities for safety.

In every organization the hierarchy is the formal chain of leadership, and roles and responsibilities for the success of the organization are typically operationally specific.  Many organizations do not have specific safety roles and responsibilities for those outside the “safety department”.  Without a clear understanding of and adherence to safety roles and responsibilities, people are confused and the likelihood for injuries becomes a “crap shoot”.

Beginning at the top of the organization once can imagine that the role of executives would be to provide leadership.  Many jump to the point of saying, “lead by example” and although I would agree that with, every person – not only executives – should behave in a safe manner, following rules and regulations that reduce the risk of injury.  In my opinion, the executives must demonstrate through their communications that they are committed to a vision of safety that reflects the common values expected throughout the organization.

When I was in the workforce, many years ago, it was a big deal to have the executives don an apron and cook hamburgers at the annual safety meeting.  This was a time when the accountability for executives was much different and they were far from the frontline of the work being done.  Today it is vital to the organization’s safety success to see executives participate in safety training, assist with walk-throughs and shoring their vision for safety on a regular basis throughout the organization.  Their ability to communicate is vital to getting the message for expectations passed down to the next level of management so that the front line understands executive commitment.

Management of the company falls to a larger group where the safety vision can begin to get fuzzy because the communications are diluted with production.  At this level of the organization, resources for projects such as people and money are managed.  Executives set a goal and then expect many accomplishments with a certain budget.  If the vision for safety is vague but the production goals are measurable and unclear, one can see where management could play a role in placing more resources toward clearly understood goals.  If executives have done a good job of communicating the vision and have identified measurable goals it is easy to see that the role of management to shift resources to meet those goals would more likely be accomplished.

The action-oriented goals are likely going to be passed to the supervisory staff.  In the past it has been my observation that the values and vision for safety as laid out by executives seldom makes it this far in organizations.  The supervisory staff of an organization is the key level for success and many times is the most neglected when it comes to leadership and managing human performance.  Supervisory staff should be where most of the planned goals are executed to the expectations of the executives.  For this reason, one of the management’s most important functions is to make sure that supervisors are trained, coached and supported in their role of executing safety plan.  Additionally, worksite leadership is at the frontline of the organization where we see titles such as foreman, crew leader, or team lead, and like the supervisory staff, is seldom prepared for their role in safety leadership.

Worksite leaders play the role of feet, hands and eyes of the supervisory staff.  Many of the personnel in these positions are union member of at least come from the functional workforce.  Like supervisory staff, the worksite leadership must communicate the vision of the executives as they have had it pass on to them.  Like the communications game “gossip” where a piece of information is passed from person to person, many times the final message is diluted, weakened, or not communicated at all.  If the role of worksite leadership is to make sure the vision for safety and actionable goals are executed, they must be clearly communicated with expectations clearly identified.

At the far end of the organization is the functional workforce where most of the hazards are encountered that cause injury.  The role is to follow rules and procedures, and use the tools provided to ensure nobody gets hurt while accomplishing the work.  Like many of the levels in the organization the message becomes confused with the messages about production.  At this level personnel are typically of a technical nature and see results that they accomplish by their own effort.

While it’s important for each level to understand its roles and responsibilities including safety, the danger is that they only understand their own level.  For an organization to be successful, particularly with safety, everyone must have a fundamental understanding of each level’s roles and responsibilities.  This month take time to gather people from each level in one place for a discussion about roles and responsibilities of each level.  This will be a great way to gauge the understanding and discover any gaps that exist.

Carl Potter is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) who presents his motivational safety message to audiences across the United States.  In addition, he is the author of more than a dozen safety books, is the founder of the Safety Institute, and is an Aircraft Commander and Safety Officer for the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.  Carl is considered an expert in training personnel in hazard recognition and control process.  To learn more about Carl Potter and how he might work with your organization to create a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt, visit: www.safetyinstitute.com.  Email him directly at: carl@safetyinstitute.com

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