Did you cringe? Did your mind go to your latest order by a workplace safety officer? Did you feel your bank balance shrink? Did you think about training records? Did you think about the law and how darn confusing it is to know what you’re supposed to do? Did you think about an accident, a near miss?
Did you think of safety at all?
On October 4th in Miramichi, New Brunswick the 3rd annual national meeting of forest safety associations took place. Representatives were present from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. At such meetings, current trends and common issues are discussed and tools and solutions are shared. The most interesting thing I’ve noticed year after year is that no matter how different our provincial industries may seem, we are not that different after all. One common and reoccurring issue that arose again this year is how to engage industry leadership in health and safety.
To many, the term ‘safety’ (unfortunately) represents a cost (like an accident or a training course) or something that is apart from their daily activities (like a safety talk). However, the reality is that safety needs to be fully integrated into one’s overall business. It should just be how things get done - safely. In fact, I believe that segregating safety and using terms like ‘safety leadership’ and ‘safety culture’ have only stifled what so many of us health and safety professionals are trying to do, which is to fully integrate safety to the point where it happens unconsciously.
How do we get there? The biggest step for any business owner is to recognize that safety is part of their business; whether they address it or not, it’s there. As Reynold Hert of BCForestSafe said at our October 2012 meeting, “every company has a safety program, whether or not it’s making or costing them money is the question”. So if you are a business owner, ask yourself “does my safety program make or cost me money”? And if you answer “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” than I’ll bet it is costing you.
Recognizing that safety is part of your business is one thing, recognizing how to initiate change in your business to improve on it is something else. As a business owner/manager/supervisor you have the capacity to make things happen. As Stephen Covey said “I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a "transformer" in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf. It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”
A great leader is someone who champions a message and rallies, follows not with what they say but with their behaviour. A great leader embodies a strong and clear message such that their followers are compelled to impress and emulate them because they believe in them so deeply…and not because of what they say but because of what they do and what they stand for. Remember the business mantra that your lowest standard will become your employees’ highest expectation.
In business and in safety it’s often said that if people are not doing the little things than they are not doing the big things. So I challenge all owners, managers and supervisors to take a hard look at themselves and determine by what examples they are setting and leading by. Observe the next time you go onto the job site what people are doing (and not doing), look for those “little things”. For instance personal protective equipment is an easy one; if someone is not wearing their hard hats, eye/ear protection, are they likely to follow the lockout procedure that takes 15 minutes, or that detailed maintenance program? Probably not.
The true test in this exercise is not just observing what people are doing, but how you handle it. Before you hand out a reprimand, ask yourself one final question, “what have I done as this persons’ superior to encourage this behaviour”?
If you can be honest with yourself, you will find a golden opportunity within your personal accountability to become a true business leader.
Barbara McFarlane is the Executive Director for the New Brunswick Forest Safety Association. She holds a degree in Forest Engineering from the University of New Brunswick, a Certificate in Adult Education from St Francis Xavier University and is a Certified Health and Safety Consultant.