Feature Article - February 2007
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Life Preservers

Considering safety from everyone’s perspective

By Allen F. Weitzel

The safety department

Safety is a vital, but not necessarily a fun, topic. Safety is not a good-news department. Employees will run away when they see the safety manager coming, believing that safety procedures bring more work for them to do, or bring news that they don't want to hear. Therefore, the safety manager must be pleasant toward the workers. Every safety manager must be a little bit of a worrywart, watching out for the unimaginable and trying to improve procedures.

A safety manager needs to know if the safety department is advisory- or enforcement-focused. Can the safety department close an attraction without consulting anyone? If the answer is yes, the department is enforcement-focused. If the safety staff researches incidents and submits that data to others who then implement changes, then the department acts on an advisory basis. An enforcement department requires a significant-sized staff to plan projects, inspect work in progress, regulate safety infractions and maintain an enforcement posture. An advisory department is smaller, advises on issues and allows the executive management to make the final decisions. The executive management should agree on the safety department's realm of authority, and should meet with the safety department regularly.

The safety department should be proactive. Safety employees should walk the talk and set examples.

The safety staff should make it comfortable for other employees to chat about safety, and they should take suggestions with grace. The safety department must set up systems that allow employees to easily report hazards. Once people feel comfortable with the safety department, they will be more likely to open up about their safety concerns. Listen carefully to each concern and address each objectively, culling out the real problem. Never "blow off" an employee or guest who has a safety concern. Never burn a source, or the employees will cease to report unadulterated information.

The safety department should keep accurate records, should never skew statistics and must make sure that recommendations for change are based upon facts, experience and regulations. If there is a safety concern, educate the department about the concern and offer possible solutions, but let the department decide the best action to take to resolve the issue.

What happens if a concern is presented for which there appears to be no concrete solution? Cultivate a nucleus of safety colleagues who can be contacted to brainstorm solutions to the problem.

The safety department must not be the sole judge, jury and executioner on safety concerns. There should be an associate who can review safety issues and provide problem-solving guidance.

Always document the reasons why specific safety decisions were made. If management becomes complacent about safety, begin an educational campaign to educate them on how the safety programs have kept the company risk-free. In most situations, executive management is not opposed to safety, but is concerned about running a well-balanced ship, where all divisions receive equal attention. Therefore, the risk manager must accomplish safety goals by solving day-to-day issues using savvy, popularity, kindness and sweat. The trick is patience and small wins. The driving philosophies of an efficient safety department are professionalism, cooperation and communication. A long-term commitment to safety will bring success.