Top Management’s Role in Safety

Reducing accidents often boils down to reducing accident causing conditions and accident causing acts. However, safety experts would agree that employers should not miss the forest for the trees. Telling supervisors to watch for spills and employees to work safely is futile if everyone thinks management’s not serious about safety. The point is that workplace safety always starts with and depends on top management’s genuine commitment to safety.

Historically for instance DuPont’s accident rate has been much lower than that of the chemical industry as a whole. This good safety record is partly due to an organizational commitment to safety which is evident in the following descriptions:

One of the best examples in setting the highest possible priority for safety takes place at a DuPont Plant in Germany. Each morning at the DuPont Polyester and Nylon plant the director and his assistants meet at 8:45 a.m for reviewing the past 24 hours. The first matter they discuss is not production but safety. Only after they have examined reports of accidents and near misses and satisfied themselves that corrective action has been taken do they move onto look at output, quality and cost matters.

What the top management can do?

In brief, evidencing top management’s commitment requires several things. Top management should be personally involved in safety matters high priority in meetings and production scheduling give the company safety officer high rank and status and include safety training in new workers training. Ideally, safety is an integral part of the system woven into each management competency and a part of everyone’s day to day responsibilities. In addition top management (usually working through human resource management) should:

1) Institutionalize management’s commitment with a safety policy, and publicize it.
2) Analyze the number of accidents safety incidents and then set specific achievable safety goals. Georgia Pacific reduced workers’ compensation costs with policy that forces mangers to halve accidents or forfeit 30 % of their bonuses.

Committing to safety is not just a case of legal compliance or humanitarianism. Safety programs also pay for themselves. One safety program at a Missouri ABB plant resulted in total OSHA cases reduced 80% in one year; OSHA lost time rate reduced 86% in one year; and $560,000 contributed to profit. One study of two organizations concluded that their safety activities paid of themselves by a ratio of 10 to 1, just in direct savings of worker’s compensation expenses over four years.

Supervisor’s role in accident prevention:

After inspecting a work site in which workers were installing sewer pipes in a four foot trench an OSHA inspector cited an employer or violating the OSHA rule requiring employers to have a stairway ladder ramp or other safe means of egress in trench excavations that are four or more feet in depth at the event the trench caved in, workers needed a quick way out.

As in most such cases the employer and its top management had the primary responsibility for the safety breakdown, but the local supervisor was responsible for the day to day inspection. The OSHA rule for which the company was cited requires that, a competent person make daily inspection of trenches like this to make sure that its walls aren’t shifting and its ladders are functioning properly. Here, the supervisor did not properly do his daily inspection. The trench collapsed and several employees were severely injured.

The moral is that whether one is manager of an IT department or managing an excavation or dry cleaning store, safety inspections should always be part of the supervisor’s daily duty. For example, a daily walk through of your workplace – whether you are working in out door construction, indoor manufacturing or any place that poses safety challenges – is an essential part of your work.

Exactly what to look for depends on the workplace for example construction sites and dry cleaning stores have hazards all kinds of their own. However, in general you can use a checklist of unsafe conditions and spot the problems.

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