Keep Safety Simple: Three Work Values for Safety Success -Safety-Quality-Production
We listen with our values, and translate to prove we are correct. – Carl Potter
During this time of getting back to work there must be a careful balance effort to be financially successful while being safe. It is easy to say, “Safety First” on the job site, but operationally putting safety first is more difficult to achieve than we realize. The challenge is to manage what seems like competing values: safety, quality, and production. Years of observing workplace safety across the US and around the world have shown me that humans are motivated by doing more. When we do more for the company and the company prospers, bonuses are handed out an raises are given; there’s a general attitude of pride and accomplishment and everyone is happy. Somehow, this equation gets messed up when the balance between safety, production, and quality gets out of whack.
For example, several years ago a client produced a product that was in high demand and they owned more than 85% of the market. The leader I was working with said, “This business is like printing money because of the high margins.” These margins led the company to give supervisors an incentive to produce more but not to keep “Safety First.” Other industry clients have been in similar situations with overhauls and maintenance turn-arounds. Sometimes leaders, including supervisors and foremen, unwittingly send the signal that safety is secondary to production or quality.
We all listen with our values. In other words, we all have values and those are the filters through which we hear information. We translate to prove we are correct. During a safety briefing supervisors and crew leaders talk about working safe and keeping “Safety First.” Once the briefing is complete workers notice the words… “All right, we’ve got a lot to do, let’s get back to work!” [translation] “Get the job done, even if you have to take short cuts.” If workers have a value or belief that leaders are only interested in profits, this is how they will translate the message. To help keep “Safety First” in your workplace I want to suggest a better set of values. Let’s take a look at a set of primary values: safety, quality, and production.
If you will, follow me on the supposition that safety, quality, and production are values required in an organization where zero injuries is a target. Consider the definition of these values from Webster’s Dictionary:
Safety: the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss
Quality: degree of excellence
Production: total output especially of a commodity or an industry
Each of these has a common thread – people. Safety obviously is about people (employees, customers, and owners) going home to their families every day without injury. Quality has a strong link to people. When quality is a value, employees can be proud of what they produce, owners (whether stockholders, private owners, or employee owners) benefit from profits and sustainability in the marketplace which leads to ongoing employment and satisfied customers. Quality also affects the safety of individuals. If an inferior product or service is put in the hands of customers, injuries and death can result. (Remember Firestone tires?). Production is a direct link to people – those who produce, those who buy, and those who own the company. If production is slow or non-existent, no one benefits. When production is at its best, the output is optimal. Jobs are maintained, customers’ demands are met, and owners profit. When people– employees or customers – are injured, production can grind to a halt because of lost human resources, lawsuits, or re-work.
Keeping people in mind and values in the right priority can benefit everyone.
When we say safety is a priority, we are correct. Priority means that if I change the situation, the chain-of-priority changes. If we take the three work values and group them together to form our work priorities, we will be less confused when other values begin to creep into the work plan. Safety-Quality-Production can be thought of as one word to describe our work priority.
When speaking to a group I often have them repeat after me: Safety-Quality-Production several times. When all the players are in the room, we discuss the importance of placing these work values in order of importance. If we produce but the quality of the product or job is inferior, then we are bound to lose customer trust or must redo the job. If we produce a product at the cost of an injury, then we have failed to be successful overall. For these reasons, we must adopt a work priority that will lead us to the desired success.
Take the time this month to talk among your peers about these three work values and how they can form your work priority. Ask each person to share a time when they “heard” production first during a job briefing from a leader. Was that what the leader said? If yes, was that what the leader meant? If you are a leader, how can you guard against mistranslation? How can you learn about others’ values so you will begin to understand the filters through which they ‘hear’ information? And, consider your own values as filters and ask yourself how they affect your willingness to truly listen. Creating a safe workplace depends around our ability to listen with the right values and translate the safety message so that nobody gets hurt.
While we are moving forward at this time of rebuilding businesses and getting back to work, let’s Keep Safety Simple by applying four key principals for creating a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.
1. Keep your attitude positive towards the goal of nobody gets hurt. This will help you focus on the procedures that reduce the risk of injury because it mitigates recognized hazards.
2. Keep your eyes open and observe your surroundings so that when a hazard creeps up you are willing to take action.
3. Last of all, wear your PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) because it is the last line of defense. If you are able to mitigate the hazard(s) on a worksite to a point where PPE is not required, then you have won the large part of the battle and made it easier to insure that nobody gets hurt.
If you are looking for a safety message that will rally your employees as they go back to work let me know. I am set up to speak from my studio “live” through Microsoft Teams. It would be my honor to visit with you about scheduling presentations so that we stive to continue developing a sustainable and positive safety culture in your workplace.
Carl Potter, CSP