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Safety: It’s Not About Rules and Regulations

On Aug. 2, 2016, OSHA fines increased, but critics ask: Does this higher fine actually increase safety?

Business leaders in a safety sensitive sector like the valve industry understand the need to be safe and profitable under any circumstances. It is not an “either or” choice. Disaster lies ahead if we allow production concerns to justify cutting safety corners. Consider that perhaps the safest manufacturing company is one that is shut down. On the other hand, if a company simply cranks out product without regard to maintenance, testing, engineering and quality assurance, it is doubtful the company would remain in business very long due to actual or perceived problems with safety. A healthy safety culture that empowers employees is the most certain way to ensure that safety, production and quality are in harmony.

A Culture of Safety

Safety happens when an organization creates a culture where safety is a value, not a priority. Rather than think of safety as a cost, leaders must understand that it is an investment with profound bottom-line results. When you invest in safety, you’re investing in your employees.

When we start looking at safety in terms of OSHA fines, we’re ultimately looking in the rearview mirror. Rather, we must get in front of safety issues and prevent them before they arise by creating a culture that promotes safe practices. This is especially important in the oil industry because, as past headline-making accidents have taught us, once the accident occurs, it’s too late. We’re cleaning up the mess when we ultimately could have prevented it from occurring in the first place had a culture of prevention been established. When we focus on leading indicators, we’re looking ahead—and that’s where our attention should be.

Here are some tips to help you create a world-class safety culture:

1. Harness Your Opinion Leaders
You have opinion leaders in your organization, but the key is knowing who they are. Your opinion leaders are often not the ones with the fancy titles or corner office; they’re your front-line employees. And, they’re either working for you or against you. As a leader, it’s your job to have them on your side. Bring them on the inside. Have them lead a meeting rather than only looking to your upper management team. Involve them in communication.

2. Tear Down Silos
We are often surprised when siloes exist in our company, yet we are the ones building them. Take a look at your meetings: Is it only the sales team in the sales meeting? Having segregated meetings will isolate teams, while having the right people in the room when decisions are being made is essential to a healthy culture. Are your front-line opinion leaders involved in the decision making? How effective is it to only have operations employees in an operations meeting when it is your sales team who is selling operations?

3. Hire for Values and Technical Excellence
Many times we hire for technical skills and don’t put as much weight in hiring for a cultural fit. This can be dangerous. You may have a technically excellent employee in a particular role, but if their values are not in line with the company’s, your culture will suffer. Start by hiring for the right values, motivation and personality. You send a loud message when you hire just for the bare minimum requirements set by your insurance company. Focus hiring efforts on what you can’t change and train for what you can.

4. Safety Accountability
There are three types of accountability: individual, organizational and peer-to-peer. In order for safety excellence to occur, all three forms of accountability must be present. Individual means an employee understands the expectations and is responsible for executing to the standards presented. Organizational requires a look in the mirror to ensure the procedures and processes in place are effective. If they’re not, revise them. Peer-to-peer accountability is when employees hold each other accountable for their actions. This can be the hardest to promote, but it is the most essential. Rather than moving an issue up the corporate ladder, stellar safety performance will occur when your employees turn to each other to promote positive behavior.

5. Dismiss Severity
There is no minor accident—something minor just means that you got lucky. Each accident must be investigated with the same amount of attention. A root-cause analysis is essential. The minute your employees start to believe that an accident was “minor,” is the minute they become complacent.

6. A Continuous Obsession
The only acceptable goal in a safety sensitive industry is zero incidents. Football icon Vince Lombardi said “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” As leaders, we must constantly drive home that zero is the goal and provide continuous behaviorally-based training mechanisms so that our employees can improve.

When it comes to implementing these ideas, start by prioritizing them. Begin with easy-to-implement/high-value ideas. Safety is about behavior, and your role as a leader is to manage it.

In the valve industry and the end-user sectors that use these products, this issue is especially critical. Not only are there dozens of stringent safety standards in place, the very nature of the oil and gas, power generation, water and wastewater industries means these plants, mines, oil platforms and fields can be very dangerous places.

It’s your obligation to ensure employees are behaving in accordance with world-class safety values and standards. Consider the impacts on customers, end users and members of the public if a corner is cut. Smart customers now perform due diligence on their vendors. More and more good companies, the kind you want as customers, are basing their business decisions on safety performance. Make sure you have an A-plus plant.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is an accident prevention specialist and author of Leading People Safely: How To Win On The Business Battlefield.

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