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February 2009

New Hampshire Health & Safety Conference-- Well Worth a Look!

When you put on an annual gathering for over 30 years, you’re definitely doing something right. The Safety Council of Northern New England is presenting its 38th Annual NH Conference so it's fair to say they've got it down pat.

Taking place April 6th – 8th, 2009 in Nashua, NH, I can attest to the quality of the conference, having attended several times. The breakout sessions cover pertinent, current material. Vendor displays are informative and there is always something that's new or improved. Plus, it's held at a great venue with exceptional service.

With the economic considerations that businesses are enduring, continuing education of key personnel still needs to be considered, and viewed as an investment. It's a safe bet that those who attend will benefit from the conference and hopefully many of those reading this will come to realize that.

Please take a closer look at the conference and what it has to offer. We hope to see you there!

What is Safety Culture? Part 3

Last time, we talked about what a safety culture is. I mentioned that  a successful company will integrate safety with business goals, creating a balance between all aspects of the organization, which allows the company as a whole to mature in the same cultural direction. But how do you create that safety culture?

The culture component offers the greatest opportunity to reduce injuries and helps all of the other pieces to come together. Such a process requires a strategic plan as well as a means of measuring the spectrum of high achievements to lackluster performance. All too often the following phrases are used to justify the concept of improving safety efforts. We hear leaders say, "The safety of our people is paramount," or "A safe workplace is a productive workplace."

Although statements like these may be true, they do not produce tangible points of reference, such as a benchmark. They are easily treated as slogans, only to be forgotten.

As with any good business initiative, to know where you're going, you need to know where you are. Start by benchmarking the organizational values, measuring your culture to find out where you stand and whether perceptions are shared across departments, shifts or at all levels. A good survey of an organization should find out where it stands on its commitment, balance between safety and productivity, integrity, responsibility, and visibility of safety, among others. These results give you a starting point toward a safer culture.

From here, it's a matter of choosing and delivering on the culture you want to create. You'll need buy-in from all levels but this often starts with senior management. Once in place, you're ready to create programs and take steps toward a healthier, safer and more productive workplace culture.


What is Safety Culture? - Part 2

Last time, we talked about the ways in which having a safer culture can help reduce injuries. But what is a safety culture?

The culture of a workplace (or of any place) is its unspoken characteristics. Anthropologists might define culture as "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another." Workplaces are the same.  Beliefs, values and ultimately behaviors are all part of culture. In a workplace, culture includes how an organization goes about its work. How information passes from one level to the next, how the organization handles stress such as busy times, or slowdowns. How does it reward employees? All of these and more make up a workplace culture.

Successful companies with strong cultures integrate safety with business goals.  This balance makes certain that it permeates all parts of the organization, then safety, productivity, and quality should congruently mature in the same cultural direction. 

A culture of safety means that each worker understands that the organization's attitude and outlook inherently value safety.  A culture is the shared sense of responsibility by each member of a team toward the whole.  It requires an engaged management that will not shy away from benchmarking its values, measuring itself against those values, then setting strategic action steps to attain continuous improvement. 

In our next entry, we’ll discuss how one creates a safety culture.

What is Safety Culture?

After we recently wrote about safety culture and consciousness, it occurred to me that not everyone really knows what we mean when we say “culture based safety.” With all the talk of buy-in, it is difficult to ask employees for it if you do not understand exactly what safety culture is. Over the next three entries, we’ll discuss what culture is and how we can influence it to improve safety.

Why all the talk about “culture”?

For decades, workplace safety professionals have advised employers to "engineer out" risks to employees.

Have a machine with exposed moving parts? Put a guard on it. Does a job task require awkward lifting and twisting? Change the working environment to eliminate the lift and twist. Is the job physically difficult? Find an automated solution.

All of these valid and logical methods for reducing injuries have been underway for decades. And, yet, people get injured at work every day. Sure, there are fewer injuries and many of them are less severe but we still haven't come close to solving root causes of workplace injuries.

It was none other than Albert Einstein who said: “The problems we face today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

And, of course, that famous definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result) seems to be a mantra of many a workplace. The truth is, engineering as it's been known to safety professionals over the years has its limits. Today, study after study is finding that the way to a safer workplace is by integrating business and safety goals toward a congruent culture of safe productive work. Not only does this culture help reduce injuries today-- it creates sustainable change for the future.

The term "culture" often gets thrown around these days but what does it really mean? Better yet, can a culture really be created? In our next blog we’ll answer the question, “What is a safety culture?”

Chalkboard safety culture

The Price of Paying Attention

I received a message recently from fellow MEMIC Safety Management Consultant, Greg LaRochelle. Greg’s note touches on the human side of employee health and safety. You may have seen the term ‘safety culture’ on this blog several times before, but Greg’s point goes beyond the culture aspect and into safety consciousness.  All the training, processes and disciplinary actions in place in a workplace pale in comparison when your workers take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.

Greg recently caught a story on the evening news about a teenage boy who was struck by a fast-moving train while rushing to school one morning.  The student, in a hurry and wearing his new iPod, took the chance of crossing the railroad tracks with the barriers in the down position.  In a split second, he was clipped by an oncoming train and was tossed roughly 20 feet into a snow bank.  He sustained multiple injuries, including broken leg bones which have required five surgeries.  Fortunately, he is recovering well but faces intensive physical therapy to get back on his feet.  Remarkably, the young man has a positive outlook and has commented that he learned a big lesson on the importance of paying attention. 

The news story compelled Greg to write to me, as this lad’s remarkable experience and post-accident revelation rings true not only in the workplace, but in everyday life.  An organization can have a comprehensive health and safety management system, complete with all the needed policies and procedures, hazard analyses, and controls in place, including physical safeguards and personal protective equipment. But the key ingredient to safety success is the employee’s alertness to his/her surroundings and focus on the task at hand.  Employees need to be conscious at all times of steering clear of the “line of fire,” stemming from the point of operation.  In this age of electronic gadgets, financial worries, and new struggles unfolding, it remains paramount that we pay close attention to what’s happening right in front of us. When we lose track of these things, it could hit us like a moving train with serious and long-lasting consequences.

I am positive we have all been in a hurry and distracted by a piece of technology and realized our near-miss accident. I encourage you to share your stories with us, so we all may listen and learn and take heed of our tasks at hand.

Color Wheel Price of Paying Attention