Do employees snicker every time you discuss a safety policy?
Could it be that they have heard it before and that the push for production has created a gap in management credibility?
Here is why you should care about the answer to that question: After an accident, OSHA, plaintiff’s attorneys and insurance underwriters will expose such situational safety ethics. In addition, authorities having jurisdiction might create additional codes and requirements for the entire industry due to your leadership negligence.
After you stop being defensive (and you will get defensive), you will realize their observations are simply reflecting your actual leadership efforts when it comes to safety.
First and foremost, you have to care. Without a strong leadership commitment to achieving safe results, safety takes a backseat to potential profits. This puts customers, employees and the bottom line at risk.
“But times are tough” is a cry I hear often from propane marketers struggling to balance overhead costs of doing business. Regulatory compliance, insurance, training and employee benefit costs have made making a commitment to safety a tough decision.
Define your company
Ethics have become a huge part of the safety equation.
Aggressive marketing in the form of low-margin pricing combined with limited safety training, lack of required permits and minimal insurance limits have made it tough for good operators who are in compliance to compete. Many are considering selling established family businesses, essentially conceding defeat.
This is no time to quit. It is time to define what your company stands for when it comes to safety.
What is an acceptable number of accidents per year with your company? How many lost-time injury days are considered acceptable?
The sad truth is that the term “benchmarking” is obsolete when it comes to safety, because it only sets the bar at what is currently known as a best practice and limits the consideration of a higher standard of excellence.
The concept of “theoretical limits” allows for the opportunity to achieve safety goals in a much better way. In theory, you can improve your safety record. In theory, you can achieve zero accidents for a period of time.
If you don’t believe me, consider this: Rod Wiedeman of Kamps Propane was recently recognized by the California Trucking Association (CTA) as driver of the year in northern California. Wiedeman, a California native, has driven for four consecutive decades without a chargeable accident or injury; he has retired seven bobtails since he first started making deliveries in a 1963 International; and he has pumped an estimated 30 million gallons into customers’ tanks.
“This is a big deal for us as a company and for Rod,” says Rick Regelman, branch manager for Kamps’ Manteca location. “A lot of people have a big heart for Rod and look up to him. He’s like a role model for these young guys. If they want to get somewhere in life and do the job right, Rod is the guy. He’s an icon in the industry, including in our company.”
Regelman attributes it to the pride Wiedeman has in his job and the era in which he grew up, when workers’ mentality was different than it is today. Wiedeman also has been instrumental in sharing his safety knowledge and training other employees, the branch manager adds.
Such safety leadership puts theory without limits into practice.
Send the right message
When leaders fail to value employees as people, we are sending a message that says:
■ We don’t treat you with dignity because we don’t respect you.
■ We don’t appreciate your contribution as being meaningful.
■ We don’t notice your efforts because we are too busy.
We all see organizations where the mission statement clearly emphasizes safety as a priority. However, behind closed doors many leaders apply situational ethics to safety concepts in favor of economic considerations. With their heads in the sand, their assets are waving in the wind.
The message here is clearly that money matters more than people.
The truth is you cannot effectively make money without valuing employees and their contribution. Every leader ought to look in the mirror once in a while and ask if their credibility is credible with employees.
I believe it is time that we actually become the leaders we profess to be. This requires a few changes in our current operating mode:
■ We must treat all employees with dignity and respect.
■ We must help them see that their contributions give meaning to their lives as well as our businesses.
■ We have to recognize their efforts.
Such recognition might take many forms to achieve desired results. It can be as simple as inspecting what you expect and catching them doing something right.
Always remember that asking employees to deviate from safety policies has an extremely negative impact on any other form of recognition.
Apply the concepts
As you prepare for 2011, consider the simple concepts outlined above on situational safety ethics, the valuation of employees and how they might apply to your organization.
Discuss the theory that when safety leaders fail to walk the talk, they often wander off the path and away from profitable results. Remember that safety is not just a job for the safety department. Owners, managers, supervisors and employees are all leaders and critical components to safety success.
After an accident, you can read the news and live with the consequences or you can be proactive today in ways that might prevent an accident, protect your employees and ensure safe growth.