A Brave Supervisor

October 11 2021
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Close to twelve years ago, at a refinery, days away from celebrating three years without a recordable injury, a terrible thing happened. A supervisor walking down some stairs within operations heard a squeaky sound. Even though the contract with the bargaining unit stated management is supposed to direct, rather than perform the work, he found and picked up an oil can. He opened an access door to identify the source of the noise, bypassing a lockout-tagout procedure. Leaning in, now off-balance, he placed his left hand on a steel rod to stabilize himself. As the rod abruptly dropped down and around a piece of machinery, it immediately amputated four fingers.

A Brave Supervisor

For multiple reasons, this was a shock to the company. Three days before an injury-free celebration, they thought they were good. They thought they had a culture that would sustain these results. The President of the company engaged me as an advisor and to assess the culture across the company. The first intervention was to join him at this location as he led a supervisor stand-down and flew in other location managers. The injured party was still in the hospital during this event.

Located behind and to the right of the President, I sat as he addressed the audience of supervisors. The other managers sat along the wall to the left of where the President began admonishing the seated crowd. "Don't you know what you are supposed to do? Don't you know what you aren't supposed to do with safety?" he gruffly inquired.

Perhaps with a little more perceived political capital, an older supervisor stood up and responded, "Respectfully, sir, I don't believe that has been made clear to us." The President looked to the row of managers and questioned, "Is that true?" I watched several of the managers raise their shoulders as to indicate; I don't know. The brave supervisor followed with, "Well again, respectfully, if you all don't know, how are we supposed to?" initiating a meaningful conversation.

Two takeaways:

  1. The absence of injuries does not indicate the presence of safety. Success is more than zero injuries over a sustained period. It is also defined by knowing precisely what yields results and creating a shared mindset that further improvement will always be possible. How does your organization define success? Does it need to mature?
  2. Success needs to be defined both culturally and in results terms. Organizations must also collaboratively develop safety roles, responsibilities, and results (SRRRs) for all performers within the culture. Employees, especially supervisors, need to see themselves as actors in the safety strategy.

If you don't have everyone on the same page, this is precisely where to start.

"I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job." — Samuel Goldwyn

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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