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When a plant manager sits down at the weekly staff meeting he or she is surrounded by department managers who possess direct control and responsibility for all aspects of the business. If a problem arises, say for example, costs are too high, the plant manager does not turn to the finance manager casting blame and dictate he or she work harder to cut costs. Instead, a good manager, knowing cost overruns can occur anywhere, will try to pinpoint the problem so that a resolution can be properly focused. The manager knows that everyone sitting around that table has a responsibility to control costs. Likewise, the manager will say everyone at the table is also responsible for managing production, quality, people, etc. These department managers, in turn, hold supervisors and employees accountable for the same charge. In other words, everyone is responsible for assuring production is met, quality is high and costs are low because any employee can damage product, affect quality or run up costs. Therefore, every employee makes up the production, quality and cost organizations within the company.
So why is safety managed any differently?
First of all, the safety manager is often just a “warm body”. An example would be a maintenance mechanic with no prior safety experience being assigned the role of safety manager. Or perhaps the company does go out and hire a bone-fide, experienced safety manager, however he or she is not invited to the weekly staff meeting. This new safety manager is rarely given any authority. And oftentimes, employees are not held to the same level of accountability for using PPE and locking out equipment as they are for punctuality and insubordination.
Employees are empowered with the freedom to stop an entire production line if they are aware of a problem affecting production or quality. And because of this increased participation, the quality of the end-product is excellent and costs are down. The company has sought the participation of a very vital and knowledgeable resource – the employees. Employee safety and health systems should be managed in the same way and with the same emphasis, commitment and expectations for success as production, quality and cost reduction.
We have learned that if we want to improve something for which employees are responsible, then it must become an important aspect of their workday. Employees are placed on a team or committee and given responsibility. They are held accountable and are recognized for their efforts. By involving the employees they develop a greater sense of awareness and ownership. This empowerment is actually changing the behavior of the workers and the result is improved production, quality end-product and lower cost.
There are many ways to involve workers at every level in the safety and health system and achieve success in injury reduction. Managers should make every effort to demonstrate a commitment to worker protection, and manage safety and health just as they expect everything else to be managed.