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Workplace Safety

EHS survey results - Do managers care more about production than employee safety?

August 15, 2013 - Posted by Eric Glass

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EHS Today has released the results of its 2013 National Safety Survey of nearly 1,000 environment, health and safety professionals.

Overall, there has been great improvement in certain areas, but the EHS community is still plagued by recurring issues we have not been able to overcome.

It’s not all rosy

Among respondents, 61.4 percent say the performance of their workplace safety and health program has improved. While that may indeed be the case, but there are some open responses that seem to paint another picture. Among them:

  • Managers care more about product than safety
  • Supervisors not held accountable for poor safety performance
  • Hazards identified do not get fixed in a timely manner
  • Lack of consistency in policies vs. procedures
  • People enacting rules have never “gotten their hands dirty”
  • Management does not listen to employees
  • Safety and health is a “lip service” (management)

Can a safety program improve when cast in the shadow of these types of complaints? Absolutely! These observations are less an indictment of the overall safety program and more an expression of individual frustrations (and useful warnings) that can co-exist within successful safety and health programs.

Sure, they are common responses. But are they accurate statements or the reflections of employees who are forced to rely on perception because facts are not been communicated to them? In either the case, they are not indicative of a workplace safety and health culture that claims transparency and company-wide buy-in.

These kinds of statements drive cynicism in the safety and health process, making it much more difficult for an EHS manager effectively do his or her job. At the grass-roots level, there could be some deeply embedded mistrust or belief that there is a “double standard” or the programs are not as successful as leadership would like to believe.

If these types of statements are present in your organization, take an honest inventory and act on the root cause of the concerns you uncover. The alternative is not a favorable one.

Leading indicator-based programs take root

Each year, more and more organizations heavily rely on leading indicators to drive safety and health improvements. In the survey, 79.1 percent of respondents said they use leading indicators to measure safety performance. What metrics are these companies using?

  • Submitting observations
  • Tracking near misses
  • Employee engagement
  • Job or site-specific training
  • Tying management compensation to safety-related performance
  • Maintenance and housekeeping

A standout for me is the percentage of the workforce (employees) that is engaged in a leading indicator-based safety and health programs professionals used to only be concerned about the number of observation and near- miss reports that helped them develop a ratio of the number of injuries or other incidents that have occurred. It is nice to see this becoming a metric that is being utilized to evaluate the “state of safety culture” in an organization.

Employee engagement is a far more meaningful metric for measuring safety culture than the number of observations or near misses. Organizations that have high employee participation typically yield better performance and results. It is a win/win for all involved.

What now?

When reviewing survey results, pay particularly close attention to the ad-hoc comments. Your ability to effectively address them will ultimately determine how successful your organization’s safety and health programs will be. If you do not get any of this type of feedback, then your organization likely is well on its way to realizing its full potential. However, be mindful that there may be other subterranean issues that could inhibit your chances for success.

Use metrics to determine what organizations are doing and whether you are doing the same in your program.

The EHS survey is a tremendous resource for your organization. Only you will be able to determine how you want to utilize the findings. If you work for a leading indicator-based organization that prides itself on early reporting and learning, you understand the value of reading between the lines of the percentages and interpreting the open-field responses.


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Topics: workplace safety, Featured