Friday, March 19, 2010

Engage or discipline - how do you manage?

I recently had the opportunity to present at the OSHA Day conference at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL. Attending the event were around 400 individuals who are somehow involved in safety as part of their day to day work.
One of the attendees, in my 75 minute session on “Lean Safety,” suggested that to ensure employee safety you should have each of them sign a contract to follow all the safety rules and regulations. Old school safety like this, modeled on safety contracts and discipline, is a top down, directive and compliance (OSHA) driven business process. Companies following this model are still operating with the upright triangle – customers at the bottom and leadership on top. They are still dependent on the “discipline stick” to drive fear throughout their workplace in an attempt to raise safety awareness. Regrettably many businesses still use this model to manage safety.
By starting with both the premise that no one comes to work to get hurt, and an awareness of W. Edwards Deming and his belief that you must “drive fear from the workplace” in order to engage employees in the improvement of anything, safety professionals begin to understand that this old model in a relic of the last century. You earn trust by giving it. To demonstrate “respect for people” and begin to win the hearts and minds of those who are in harm’s way management must first flip the triangle and then begin to engage their employees in safety improvement efforts. Trust must pave the road to the continuous improvement of safety or any other company wide business change.
To “lean thinkers” safety is just another business process to which they can, with employee involvement, apply the lean tools to drive change. Switching safety management from a purely compliance based model to one based on compliance and continual improvement can be the starting point for a lean effort in any business for everyone will rally around safety. You can begin to bridge the trust gap that exists in all plants by starting on the safety side and crossing over to the lean side.
A company’s safety culture, or how the people who work there think, act and interact regarding safety, will only change if management changes their approach to safety. Top down safety allows workers to state, “They (management) don’t do anything about safety around here until someone gets injured.” Any employee directly involved in safety improvement will be unable to ever repeat that statement again for they are now part of the “they.” How many of your employees can you engage in safety? Now that would be a nice proactive safety metric for any company to track. Stay safe.

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