WALKING THE FINE LINE
If you a are the owner or top manager of a business, you have delegated certain responsibilities to other worksite managers and supervisors. You want to avoid undercutting their authority since that would interfere with their ability to carry out those responsibilities. At the same time, you want to demonstrate your own commitment to reducing safety and health hazards and protecting your work force. How do you walk this fine line?
- Put a complete safety and health program in place.
- Hold your managers and supervisors strictly accountable.
- Encourage employees to use the routine systems afforded to them by the safety and health program.
- Forge a partnership with your managers and supervisors that encourages employees to speak out and use the system.
COMPLETE SAFETY AND HEALTH PROGRAM
Each method you use to improve workplace safety and health protection will work even better if complemented by the other techniques of good management. While the chapters of this manual separate safety and health program management into component parts, a functioning program is the sum of all those parts. Therefore, it would be a mistake to allow managers to pick and choose, using some program parts and not the rest.
This manual describes ways to implement OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines. If you are setting up some version of what is described in all 12 chapters, you are probably providing a complete program. If you have any doubt, refer to Chapter 1 which provides the full text of the Guidelines and summary of what each part means.
In providing a complete safety and health program, you give your entire work force -- managers, supervisors, and rank and file employees -- the tools they need to work with you in keeping the worksite safe and healthful. A complete program addresses the needs and responsibilities of all employees.
Managers and supervisors held accountable for their safety and health responsibilities are more likely to press for solutions to safety and health problems than to present barriers to problem resolution. They are more likely to suggest new ideas for hazard prevention and control then oppose new ideas. By holding your managers and supervisors accountable, you encourage their positive involvement in the safety and health program. Your own involvement then is less likely to undercut or threaten their authority. For more information on developing accountability, see Chapter 6.
ENCOURAGING THE USE OF PROGRAM SYSTEMS
You have a full program in place, and you are holding your managers and supervisors accountable for carrying out their responsibilities. The next step is to encourage the rest of your work force to use the system built into the program and to do their part.
Encourage employees to take full advantage of opportunities to become involved in problem identification, problem solving and hazard reporting. Then, when they do become involved, make sure they get appropriate and timely management feedback, including recognition and reward.
When your program's systems are working well, most safety and health problems will be resolved before your employees feel the need to approach you directly. Big problems may arise, however, that the normal systems cannot handle. Your supervisors probably will understand that these problems are not a reflection on them, and that you are the proper person to address these concerns.
What should you do when an employee brings a problem or suggestion to your attention? Listen carefully! Then tactfully ask what attempts have been made already to solve the problem or submit the suggestion. In other words, what systems -- safety and health program mechanisms -- have already been used?
Perhaps the employee will respond that he/she has spoken with the supervisor but has gotten no action. This may indicate a problem within your program. Although unlikely, the problem may be a supervisor who genuinely does not care about having a safe or healthful workplace. Rather than approach this situation as a personal matter involving this particular supervisor, focus on how the system is not working. Maybe the supervisor did not understand the issue raised by the employee or could not explain to the employee why no action was necessary. Make clear to the supervisor's manager that you want the problem within the system to be resolved. If the supervisor's attitude is at least part of the problem, give the supervisor and his/her manager a chance to work it out. It is not a good idea to confront the supervisor based on one incident.
Obviously, if your accountability system is going to work, any individual who continues to present barriers to effective safety and health management will have to be held accountable. It is important, however, to try to separate any accountability activity from your immediate response to employee-raised questions, concerns or suggestions.
Remember, too, that your safety and health systems not only encourage employee involvement in identifying hazards and resolving problems, but also protect those employees from retaliatory and discriminatory actions, including unofficial harassment.
FORGING A PARTNERSHIP
Make sure your supervisors know you understand that not every safety or health problem can be solved at the supervisory level. Call upon your managers and supervisors to help make the employee input systems work. Think of your work units -- crews, department -- as teams striving to identify and solve problems throughout whatever system mechanisms are needed. Your managers and supervisors are the team leaders, working with you and the other players toward a common goal.
You may wish to reward or otherwise recognize the teams that report hazards or suggest new hazard control ideas. Recognition can be based on the submission of reports and suggestions or on the quality of employee input. Let your managers and supervisors know that when an employee brings a safety or health matter to your attention, you consider that a good reflection of the supervisor's leadership.