Christopher Clark, Senior SHE Advisor at Morgan Sindall Group, discusses how important it is for senior management in an organisation to demonstrate correct safety procedures to maintain good working relationships with those on the coalface.
Safety is a complex subject; it is shrouded in shades of grey yet made out to be simple and easy to master. However, where humans are involved, this is far from the truth. We are different, we have different experiences, differing beliefs, and diverse biases that make us all unique, and that makes us all view safety and risky situations in different ways.
There is an increased focus on organisational culture in the modern workplace, and it is extremely important that organisations recognise how to build relationships between front-line workers and senior management. This will enable senior management to truly understand the perceived culture at board or senior management level vs the actual culture displayed day to day by the people who do the work on the coal face.
When we talk about our culture and start our journey to develop and progress toward our optimal culture, we then have to ensure we have bought into the culture at all levels. As senior management and directors, “we have to walk the walk”.
Nothing is more dangerous than a senior manager walking across the site without the correct level of PPE, not wearing their hearing protection and not challenging poor safety behaviours as it may slow down production or programme. This shows frontline staff that safety isn’t a priority, that their safety isn’t a priority. This creates psychologically unsafe work environments, which has a major effect on staff retention, morale and sickness and absence records. Staff don’t want to work in an unsafe workplace where the management doesn’t care, so people move on, or they work unsafely as it is the accepted norm.
There is nothing more powerful to demonstrate commitment to safety than a senior manager stopping work to have a conversation with front-line workers about a safety-related issue that they have identified, making a promise to rectify the issue, and then immediately responding and correcting the issue. It doesn’t mean the workers get everything they want, but it means that management engages in safety conversations, assesses the risk, and, if required, takes advice on the issue and then comes through with some meaningful actions or responses.
When we have accidents or incidents that have caused harm, a lot of senior managers hop onto the blame train. When this happens, our people immediately go into self-preservation mode. This might be as an individual or as a collective in the form of a team or department. “Let’s make sure we get our story straight” – an issue which generally comes to air when senior management wants to find fault or blame during the investigation.
Primarily management should focus on the injured parties and their welfare; this could include, for example, the welfare of a driver of a vehicle that knocked a co-worker down. They are a second victim; they have witnessed potentially serious trauma or catastrophic injuries. Until all the facts are established, we cannot truly understand or may never understand the events leading up to the incident.
Investigations should focus on establishing what in the system has failed and ensure our systems are redesigned so that it doesn’t happen again. We must ensure we continue to learn by sharing our experiences with other organisations in our industry and our wider network. If we continue to learn, we can prevent incidents from reoccurring within our organisations and across various sites. By recording and storing the learning, we can ensure we don’t lose that learning, and we maintain our organisational memory.
A good indication of a good organisational culture is when we have a positive reporting culture, this is where frontline workers report accidents, incidents and near misses and do not fear reprisal. When organisations start to develop a positive culture and there is a greater emphasis on reporting, it may result in an increased number of safety incidents or near misses being reported. In this instance, management must respond positively and not focus on the increased number of events but on the positive reporting behaviours being displayed by the workforce. This will create a positive culture where front-line workers are psychologically safe, genuinely feel like management cares and can trust in management’s response.
People are fallible. We all are, so expecting accidents and incidents not to happen is unwise. However, aiming not to cause harm is a noble and achievable goal. If we focus our efforts and action plans on the right areas of safety, management can effectively reduce accidents and incidents. This is achieved by walking the walk, engaging with front-line workers, and by creating trust and ownership within the organisation.
If you would like to contact Christopher, please email him at Chris.Clark2@morgansindall.com