Guard the Front Door: Protecting Your Safety Culture

BIC - March 2016
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Printable Version

When you have a culture of safety excellence, the focus evolves from improving what exists to guarding the front door. How well are you protecting what you have created? As organizations improve safety, they move from a conditional to a behavioral focus; they move from compliance to culture. They move from creating have-to cultures and strive toward forming want-to cultures. At some point, they realize they have created something worth being proud of and, like a member of family, work to protect it at all costs.

ProAct Safety recently held a workshop focusing on creating a three-year safety excellence strategy for a specific client. Like a lot of companies, the client was concerned because it outgrew its existing safety strategy. What once worked to protect the more experienced workers and ensured improvement efforts that added sustainable value were no longer as relevant. The organization was experiencing a high degree of retirement, and thus the need to hire new employees became a business reality. Based on the type of work this organization performs, there are unfortunately few experienced individuals from whom to pull. The stack of applicants is dominated by minimally qualified candidates.

What this company now faces represents the challenges many other businesses face: inexperienced, unqualified new hires. Because there are fewer experienced people to choose from, job offers are extended to people who have a wide range of irrelevant job experiences and minimal exposures to safety programs and cultures.

As the aforementioned workshop was about to begin, we had difficulty turning on the ceiling-mounted computer projector in the hotel meeting room we reserved. As we inquired of the hotel staff for help, no one could find the remote. An employee offering help immediately repositioned a chair underneath the projector to attempt to turn it on. We stopped her and told her she should use a stepstool or ladder. Smiling, nodding, and assuring me that it wasn't a problem, she again attempted to climb onto the chair. Perhaps we were too polite. We again stopped her and asked her to get help.

She beckoned the manager, and he also attempted to use a chair to access the projector. In similar fashion, we stopped him. He assured us maintenance could locate a small ladder. A few minutes later, the maintenance manager walked in the room carrying a handicap chair meant for shower use. We kindly let him know that wasn't a ladder or stepstool.

This was a major hotel, a well-known brand with three almost identical responses from multiple areas and levels within the organization. While red flags should certainly be raised about this hotel, that is not the point. Companies today are hiring individuals coming from other well-known companies. One must not assume they have excellent safety experiences, mindsets, training, perceptions or behaviors.

Hiring with safety excellence in mind, especially for key or leadership positions, must become a common practice. What must people know about safety? What must they believe? What must they be able to do? What experiences of theirs would tell you they are great fits for your safety culture and would help it advance? These should all be key considerations. If a new hire is well liked and becomes influential but has a negative attitude, undesirable beliefs or behaviors, could he compromise what you have worked hard to create? Yes, of course. Work to identify this during the interview process rather than being surprised during onboarding or orientation.

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