Are Your Safety Resources the Safety Police?

April 25, 2018

While this is may be a provocative question, it deserves your attention. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do the job descriptions of my safety resources include safety compliance and/or enforcement responsibilities?
  2. What do my employees believe is the role of these safety resources?

The first question should be a little easier to answer, since a written job description either does or does not contain safety compliance and/or enforcement responsibilities; listing all tasks your safety resources are asked to perform can also identify the answer. In fact, it's probably a good idea to look at both written descriptions and actual tasks. The second question will require a little more probing. Here are a couple of ways to determine whether your employees believe your safety resources are the "Safety Police:"

  1. Ask your employees what they believe is the role of your safety resources, and/or who is responsible for safety performance at the facility.
  2. Observe at a distance how employees react when they see a safety resource enter their area. Do they react in a way that tries to hide or correct safety non-conformance?

Why is it important to understand the role of your safety resources, either real or perceived? Because Safety Ownership and Accountability must be a line management responsibility. It cannot be delegated or "shared" with the safety group. Shared responsibility results in no responsibility. Supervisors/line managers who believe that the safety group is responsible for safety will not hold their employees accountable for working safely, which is essential to a good safety culture.

So, what should be the role of your safety resources? Safety resources should serve as trusted advisors and technical experts to line management. Below is a comparison of the role of the safety resource and line management when it comes to Safety Ownership and Accountability.

How does this translate into day to day activities? Below are examples of just a few activities that must be led by your line management:

If you find that, in fact, your safety resources are viewed as the safety police, you have a significant opportunity to improve your safety culture. It won't happen overnight – changing your safety culture is a deliberate process and involves more than shifting ownership and accountability for safety. If you're interested in improving your safety culture, Operational Sustainability, LLC (OS) has a suite of 20 Cultural Safety Elements (Competent Safety Resources and Line Management Ownership and Accountability are just two of these elements). OS can help you:

  • Understand your employees' perceptions about your safety culture
  • Assess your safety culture strengths and opportunities
  • Provide recommendations and help with their implementation to turn your opportunities into strengths
  • Provide ongoing support with a focus on continuous improvement