Belief Leads to Action
In order for a metalworking business to practice safety in all aspects of work, management and staff have to have safety on the brain at all times. However, an endless stream of memos or managers who are constantly badgering their underlings will only breed resentment and not commitment in workers. A better method is to create a positive safety culture in a company that all employees—including owners and upper management—will desire to adopt as part of their own personal belief systems.
As all members of the staff incorporate the idea of safety as one of their core values, they will move throughout the day applying it in everything they do, both individually as well as collectively. Jeff Cooper (1920 – 2006), the originator of the “Modern Technique” of handgun shooting, famously said, “Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”
More Than a Priority
A core value is deeper than a belief, and very different than just a priority. A welder or fabricator can be told, “Make safety your priority,” only to later be told by a supervisor that getting the parts out in time are that day’s priorities. A priority is an item on a list, receiving its value from its relationship to the other things on that to-do list. It might be long-lasting, for a day or a month or a year. Priorities are never permanent, however.
A belief is an important thing, something accepted as truth by an individual, either through faith in someone else’s direction or obtained by first-hand experience. Beliefs can be called into question, though, as other viewpoints or urgencies crowd in on a workday. Unless an individual can internalize a belief into a guiding value for their life, it’s merely a nice notion to be appreciated as a worthwhile philosophy. It won’t have life-changing—or lifesaving—implications unless that person has complete buy-in on it.
All the safety posters, manuals, policies and equipment in the world are worthless if each member of the team doesn’t hold the safety of themselves, coworkers, bystanders and the company itself as principles that guide their very daily walk and talk. This is the primary mission of management regarding workplace safety—helping each and every member of the business incorporate the concept into their very attitudes and behaviors.
Teaching and Reinforcing Safety Culture
“Primum non nocere,” is a Latin phrase in the Hippocratic oath that medical doctors take. It translates simply as, “First do no harm.” Physicians around the world for generations have pledged themselves to this. It is the primary part of their core values. It can also be a valuable concept to be placed at the heart of the safety culture at a company involved in machining or metal fabrication.
Respecting and protecting human life and wellbeing is a principle that should be internalized at all levels of an organization and at the forefront of every decision and action that’s made. Whether the situation involves company owners setting up a workplace or managers developing policies and designing workflow, the twin concepts of “respect and protect” in regard to employees should influence every step of their process. From the senior-most highly trained technicians to the humblest shop workers, a strong safety culture will prevail if each individual in a company learns to continually asks themselves, “Am I being safe? Could anything I’m doing potentially harm myself or others? Is there anything I could do better?”
Some steps to nurturing a safety-oriented mindset in the shop and the business as a whole could include:
- Holding a short pre-shift meeting in every department to review projects and deadlines that ends with a quick safety principle.
- Emphasizing to senior employees that their example in safety issues really matters, since for something to truly be a “culture,” earlier “generations” have to pass it on through word and deed to those that come later.
- Sponsoring weekly contests with small prizes where employees nominate workmates who have demonstrated safety.
- Having monthly safety trainings that are short and fun, making them both memorable to the employees and anticipated by them.
- Encouraging employees to suggest procedures to help improve safety.
- Asking each member of the staff to take a turn leading a safety discussion.
- Using safety as one of the criteria for raises and advancement in the company.
- Having an open-door policy where employees feel safe to report potential problems without fear of retaliation against themselves or other employees.
- Training managers, supervisors and staff alike to be confident in having kind but firm conversations with those who are violating safety protocols.
- Stressing individual and group accountability over simply the idea of “avoid accidents.”
- Recognizing that having a safety culture doesn’t guarantee an injury-free workplace, but one that is continually improving conditions for everyone.
- Turning each safety incident that does occur into a wake-up call to reemphasize the safety culture while getting feedback from employees on what could have been done better.
- Following up in a positive manner on a regular basis with staff members who have allowed or caused safety concerns.
Committed Leadership, Committed Employees
In the end, all the training and encouragement in the world won’t lead to a safe workplace. Each individual must have the desire and motivation internalized within themselves in order to keep safety as a ruling principle in their lives.
A dedicated management team, however, can help diminish risky behavior and situations by showing a true commitment to each and every member of their staff. As employees feel they are in a safe and caring environment, they will put more effort of their own into making it even better for themselves and others. That is how a safety culture develops.