Should the Safety Department Manage Safety?
It’s time to end the artificial division between safety and production. The typical corporate organizational chart isn’t what it used to be! It has gone from fat to flat, dotted lines have largely disappeared and the safety department has been moved around like a chess piece. However, in many organizations, the safety professionals still fill a subject-matter specific management role in safety. In such organizations, operational managers and supervisors tend to let the safety professionals manage safety while they take care of “business.”
There are several potential problems with this model that have driven many high-performing organizations to make changes. The most common of these problems are as follows:
- It creates an artificial dichotomy between productivity and safety. Workers tend to get their priorities from their immediate supervisor. When the supervisor stresses getting the job done and someone else shows up with another set of priorities like safety, the two tend to conflict.
- It lets production managers and supervisors “off the hook” for safety. If the safety person is in charge of safety, why should the production people worry about it? They feel free to concentrate on getting the product out the door or the services delivered. They can train people in job skills and let safety train them how to not get hurt. It drives the dichotomous thinking and excuses production from one of their key areas of responsibility.
- It distracts safety personnel from important support functions. When safety professionals have to be visible on the shop floor and make their presence felt, they develop a mentality of herding cats. They are chasing the risk-takers like desperate traffic cops rather than helping supervisors to become effective safety coaches. They don’t have time to analyze data or develop proactive strategies when they are enforcers.
- It stresses control over culture. The idea that workers must be “overseen” is counterintuitive to developing an effective safety culture. It takes more work up front to develop an excellent safety culture, but the effort is rewarded by decreased need for oversight and increased sustainability over time.
The most common solution is to restructure the roles, responsibilities and results expected from both safety personnel and production managers and supervisors. This redefinition of job responsibilities may require some adjustment as well as additional training, but it has the potential to solve these common problems and to enable the safety culture to make a significant improvement added Salomón Juan Marcos Villarreal, president of Grupo Denim.