A friend told me about a new safety manager in his company. In his very first involvement with field crews, he called out a supervisor for failing to file a report. The only message the supervisor got was that the new safety guy didn’t have his back and the message got around to other field units very quickly. Now it will take a lot of work to win back the trust of the people he is supposed to be helping.
I thought about that when a read an article called “3 Questions Executives Should Ask Front-Line Workers” and the point of the article applies just as much to safety professionals. tToo often, people in the safety department see their role as enforcing the rules and making sure company policies are being followed. But effective safety professionals understand there needs to be a feedback loop between the company safety program and the workers it is supposed to protect. So here are the three questions safety professionals need to ask when they go into the field:
“How can I help you?” – We assume this one is a given, but if you don’t ask the question, how will you get the answer?
“Why are we doing it this way?” – This question has a couple of uses. Sometimes procedures lock us in place and we have to ask whether they serve the purpose. Asking this question of the people who are doing the job can unlock new and better ways. In more cases than we like to imagine, crews have already modified procedures or found shortcuts that may be out of sync with safety procedures. The first response may be to take the crew to task, but sometimes asking why crews made the change helps open the discussions of why we need to follow the rules or whether we need to take another look at the rules.
“Are we meeting our safety mission?” – This may sound a little out of place in an onsite conversation, but isn’t this the point of safety programs? Companies spend a lot of time and attention developing their safety programs and the workers in the field are both the prime targets and beneficiaries of those programs. Don’t we need to ask whether they see it working?
If you ask these questions, you move your safety policies from being just a bunch of rules to being a conversation. Be aware that, if you ask the questions, you need to be ready to hear the answers, but that is all part of having a meaningful conversation.