Managerial Safety Leadership can make or break your process! It is known that good Safety Leadership can positively impact safety behavior by anywhere between 35-86 percent. Poor Safety Leadership can kill the process. What are the issues?
Managers have a huge part to play in determining the success or otherwise of a behavioral safety process. Although many behavioral safety processes are 'employee-led', they can help or hinder the process in so many ways. A strong, visible and demonstrable managerial commitment to helping out can bring about enormous changes to the safety culture of an organization. However, they should not try to take the process over as this can lead to employee withdrawal and a failed effort. Equally, a lack of commitment can be detrimental in so many ways, that the process can fail in a relatively short time. The following highlights particular issues that have led to failed processes.
People are disciplined for not behaving safely in accordance with the behavioral items on the observation checklists. If there is one quick way to kill off peoples enthusiasm for engaging in behavioral safety it is this one. Although it may sound logical and the correct thing to do if someone is putting other people at risk, it can backfire rapidly. As such punishment /discipline for not adhering to the behaviors on a checklist has little value in a behavioral safety process as this will undo everything the process is trying to achieve. Although a somewhat controversial view to many safety professionals, it is based on years of psychological research that has demonstrated that punishment MUST be given immediately someone engages in that unsafe behavior, AND every single time, if it is to work. Logic dictates that this is physically impossible to do (unless you have safety policemen on every corner of your worksite). Using positive encouragement when people behave safely is a far more effective means of changing peoples behavior (something very rarely done).
A lack of regular feedback sessions. A lack of regular feedback due to the perception that people do not have the time can create a lack of workforce buy-in, as they perceive line management does not view the system as an appropriate weapon to reduce accidents. Some behavioral safety systems only require detailed feedback to be issued to the workforce on a monthly / quarterly basis (particularly those that rely solely on peer feedback at the time of observation and graphical charts). This often leads to accusations that behavioral safety takes a lot of effort for very little 'payback', as the accident rate and the percentage safe scores remain static. In my view, regular weekly feedback to the whole workgroup and a 'site summary' to the management team is the key to improving safety performance. Moreover, there is a strong business case that the beneficial side effects of improved team-working and communications outweigh any argument that it is a wasteful time resource. Moreover, it could be argued that a reluctance to provide the time demonstrates a lack of commitment to making the process work.
A lack of ongoing management support. Management do not see themselves as a part of the problem, and therefore do not see what they have anything to offer. They could and should allow people time to conduct observations, encourage people to behave safely, facilitate the target setting and feedback sessions, and help to implement any corrective actions by aiding with paperwork and providing any necessary resources. In other words, being a safety leader not a follower!