“Out of sight, out of mind.” That old expression really applies to workplace safety! Most industrial accidents occur either when people take shortcuts and “skirt” known safety procedures or when the processes they use are new to them (i.e.: new hire, new product or totally new process). It is, therefore, incumbent on management to assure that safety is neither out of sight nor out of mind.

There are two distinct considerations of industrial safety:

Establishment of an operating policy, followed by communication, training and policing.

Monitoring and follow-up to assure effectiveness and point out needed improvements. It's important that you realize and specifically address both considerations or our old friend “out of sight, out of mind” will certainly set in!

As a practical matter, safety begins with the hiring process. An applicant's poor attitude about safety can be a danger signal for problems down the road. Learn about an applicant's attitude toward safety by asking for training certificates, checking driving records, administering a drug test and talking candidly about safety during the interview.

Employee orientation is a great time to get new-hires started properly. Review safety procedures and the proper ways of accomplishing their assigned tasks. Certain tasks require training and/or certification prior to actual assignment. Statistics reveal that employees are most susceptible to injuries during their first month on the job. That's why you need to supply new-hire safety training as soon as possible after their start date.

Self-audits of existing procedures can often uncover potential problems before an injury occurs. Specific and methodical workplace audits, monitoring and in-house inspections should be mandated and their regularity made quite public. It comes down to “inspecting what you expect!”

Many companies are finding it beneficial to consult with OSHA, through state labor authorities and universities, with respect to on-site consultations and assistance in enhancing workplace safety. State-sponsored safety programs and industrial management associations are other great sources of best practices and operational assistance.

Finally, internal safety and health committees are another excellent way of bringing safety related issues to management's attention before an injury occurs. Frequently an unsafe condition, ultimately resulting in an accident, is obvious to those around it, but there is no mechanism to bring it to the attention of management. Even in small companies, having a part-time function charged with reviewing the operation for hazards is a most worthwhile endeavor.

Remember: Safety is everyone's job, but it is management's responsibility! <<

Sidebar: Best Practices

Each month, we'll provide proven Best Practices. Readers are encouraged to send along successful approaches they may be using in managing employees. We will feature the best of them in upcoming columns.

16. Establish, communicate and implement a company-wide safety policy.

A formal, written safety policy establishes that the company is concerned for the well-being of its employees. That single factor has a ripple effect throughout the business, importantly enhancing both the quality of employees' work and their productivity.

Assure that your safety policy focuses attention on the employee selection, hiring and orientation processes, because hiring people with the requisite skills and attitude is often a huge step toward better safety results in itself.

Establish a safety training calendar that regiments your scheduling and facilitation of safety training, because safety training is often put off in deference to the “fires of the day.”

Finally, your policy should establish penalties for breaches in safety processes and procedures. Those penalties should be at least as severe as the penalties assessed in any other area of the operation.

17. Monitor the success of your safety policy; leverage the benefits gained.

Training and monitoring safety programs and initiating enhancements should be about one-third of the hiring manager's job. If that seems extreme, consider the consequences of a worst-case scenario.

The written and well-communicated safety program established in No.16 above will be very beneficial in the monitoring effort. It provides a track to run on and an organized way of memorializing changes and progress. Make certain that the root cause of every accident, no matter how small, is determined, documented and addressed to assure no recurrence. Look for trends in a department, with specific employees and within specific job classifications. Trends usually point to mismanagement, a lack of focus on safety or the need for a review of processes and procedures.