Safety is so much more than personal protective equipment: it’s about a work environment, a respectful culture and paying attention to the things that over time become invisible or taken for granted.
Safety is many things: safety glasses, earplugs, steel-toed footwear, lock-out/tag-out processes, evacuation routes, protection from harassment or workplace violence. Safety is also numerous standards and compliance areas. Managing safety is hard, expensive and relentless but the alternative can be injury, dismemberment or even death, so it really has to be an organized company-wide effort.
Common sense dictates that everyone must have that “safety first” mindset but of course that’s not true. A few years back, after the business changed hands, it felt like safety was a box to be checked, and filed away until the next quarterly meeting; safety was also focused on the walk-throughs conducted with experts such the worker’s comp or insurance people, i.e. a lot of “slips, trips, and falls” topics, which, while important, were far from the highest risk areas. From a business perspective, of course we’re fully insured, but the cost of an accident goes much beyond dollars – it’s about reputation, trust of employees, safeguarding assets, avoiding fines etc…
We had to become the experts. So we had to open our eyes and make a real effort to take a new look at places we had seen so often that we actually really did not see them anymore.
We also culturally lowered the threshold of “acceptable risk”: the instances of “just this once, I can take a shortcut”, or “I do it at home, it must be ok here too”, or “ that’s ridiculous, it will take me 10 seconds if I just lean in”, have been eliminated and in some cases have led to disciplinary action. This is also accompanied by the duty to “say something” or stop operations if someone is taking risks – this is not tattling, will not lead to retaliation.
We spent time on training, have met with local fire and police departments, and take every opportunity to discuss with vendors and inspectors about best practices. We’ve proceeded with voluntary audits and made substantial changes.
But we’re not done yet: it’s now clear to all that “safety matters”, but we need to keep reminding employees every single day that safety is not just a requirement from management but about taking care of themselves and their team members on the job. When it comes to safety, we really are all in this together, and that cultural mindset seed keeps growing every day.