At one time in my career, I viewed safety programs and efforts as additional costs to the business. And they are - if you treat them only as safety meetings you must have, and inspection lists you "picked up somewhere". However, if you incorporate the practices that reduce injuries and eliminate surprises, which can disrupt your operation, safety can pay off in many ways. This is as true for silviculture as other forestry sectors.
Better Operating Results
It is very important to make a clear distinction between safety, as traditionally viewed, and building injury reduction into your operation as a way of really making sure you are ready to do business. There is a world of difference between the two.
In its traditional form, safety often consisted of meetings, safety talks, and inspections that were often disjointed from what was actually taking place in the business. This approach regularly resulted in boring meetings, which no one wanted to prepare for or attend.
Using injury reduction to focus your business planning and people efforts has a very different purpose. It results in better business methods and operating results, including improved quality, cost control, and customer satisfaction.
In a well-run business, you can see a well-designed operation, good methods and carefully selected and trained people who know what to do, why they are doing it, and how to do it. They have the right tools available all the time, and are supported to think through new and different situations. Managers visit the operation to check that staff use agreed-upon methods. Ask yourself, "In a business like this, how many injuries will occur?" Very few!
Contrast the well-run business to one with inadequate planning, poor methods, and the wrong tools. The poorly planned business often is reacting to unexpected situations, and regularly has to improvise on the spot with inadequately-trained employees.
Reducing Injuries and Improving Operations
Safety is not about searching for topics for safety meetings you feel forced to hold. It's about reducing injuries by:
• Making sure your people have the skills, knowledge, and resources to do their jobs professionally;
• Discussing the upcoming block with your people, asking them to identify any difficulties and hazards, and planning in advance how to deal with these problems; and
• Leading effectively by getting people to talk about difficulties and where they feel at risk - and then finding solutions to eliminate the problems.
In many cases, solutions lead to an easier, more effective way of working that not only reduces risk, but means more productive, higher quality results.
People will often argue that they cannot afford safety. It's difficult to understand how employees who feel at risk while working with poor methods, inadequate training, and the wrong equipment, can be expected to do a better job than those who are confident because tasks are well planned, they know how to do what they need to, and have the right tools to get it done. This just makes sense, especially in silviculture operations where so many workers are relatively young.
What can a manager do to improve safety and reduce injuries? He should do many of the same things he does to improve operating efficiency, but do them extremely well. You should follow these steps:
• Design your system, plan your operations, and determine the right methods with input from your workforce so they don't feel at risk.
• Put solid thought into how you train your people, and equip them with the right tools, in great condition, so they feel they can operate confidently.
• Go out, and see firsthand how your operation is really working. See where people have difficulty or put themselves at risk; ask why that happens in your operation, and then find a solution to improve the situation.
Always put your people first, and let them know that nothing they do is worth getting injured. Ask staff to report all close calls and whenever they feel at risk. Close calls and at-risk situations are signals that your operation can run better. After all, each of them is caused by a method or tool that is not right for the situation.
Most people who are seriously injured on the job are surprised. If they had seen the problem a moment before, or understood how their tools were about to injure them, they could have avoided what happened.
Paybacks for Safety
What type of company would you personally invest in - one with great design, planning, training, tools, and commitment to doing the right thing, or one with poor planning, unskilled people, and lack of preparation that leads to kneejerk reactions? It's clear which is most likely to experience breakdowns, poor quality, higher costs, and more injuries.
The investment in operating professionally delivers a monetary payback. It brings in more business by satisfying your customers with consistently high quality products. A strong safety program also attracts better employees and reduces injuries. Safety is professionalism, and it pays in many ways, not only in making sure the people who work with you can go home to family and friends after they finish the job.
Reynold Hert has been Chief Executive Officer of the BC Forest Safety Council since March 2009. He has more than 30 years of industry experience, most recently as President and CEO of Western Forest Products where he led significant improvements in the company's safety record.
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