In our previous blog post I discussed “Management Leadership”, which is the first of the seven core element listed in the Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs published by OSHA. We focused on getting and holding the attention of the upper-most level of Management, whom I identified as the business owner, Chief Executive Officer, and other corporate officers, by tying safety performance to their company’s bottom line. And I want to continue my focus on that same group in this month’s post for a very important reason; if they do not take concrete steps to demonstrate their true commitment to an effective health and safety program, it is doomed to fail.

Ask any member of top-level management if they are truly committed to a strong health and safety program, and you will probably get a resounding “Yes” from every single person polled. But sometimes it can be very difficult when you start looking to find tangible, objective evidence of specific actions that top-level managers have actually taken to demonstrate that commitment. So in this month’s post, I want to discuss actions that top-level managers can take to visibly demonstrate to everyone else associated with the organization they truly consider workplace health and safety to be on an equal footing with both production and quality performance.

Top-level management must develop a clearly-worded written policy communicating their commitment to providing the leadership and resources necessary to obtain and maintain a safe and healthful workplace. And the policy should be posted and/or distributed so everyone involved with the organization can see exactly what it is that management has committed to doing. Sample written health and safety policies are abundant on the internet, so just Google and you’ll find a few dozen sample written health and safety policies you can use as a model to create your own policy. OSHA even provides a sample written H&S policy (and other similar resources) on their website.

While you’re at it, I strongly suggest you also take a look at the mission statement for your business or organization (if one has been developed, you’ll probably find it framed and hung in a prominent place in the lobby). Most likely, written into that mission statement are clearly worded statements about management’s commitment to increasing shareholder value, encouraging innovation to achieve gains in efficiency or production, protecting the environment, and striving for continuous improvement in the quality of their products or services. But what did these leaders say about achieving and maintaining an effective health and safety program for everyone at their worksite? If that topic is not prominently mentioned too, then maybe it’s time for upper management to update that mission statement.

Top-level management must develop specific goals and objectives for achieving an effective health and safety program, clearly communicate those goals and objectives to affected personnel, and then hold everyone at the worksite accountable for doing their part in meeting those goals and objectives. Simply stating a desire for zero injuries is not sufficient, as that often results in under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses. Therefore, top-level management must also assign to specific people (or groups of people) responsibility for taking clearly defined, proactive actions necessary to improve and maintain workplace safety. Then the execution of these steps must be measured and considered, alongside production and quality, when conducting regularly scheduled job performance evaluations for these responsible persons.

The audience for top-level managements’ message must be all-encompassing, so top-level managers must also strive to send the same message about their commitment to workplace safety and health to others associated with their organization. This includes, where applicable, all temporary service providers and their associates, union leaders and representatives, vendors and sales representatives, contractors and sub-contractors, customers, and even visitors to the site.

Top-level management must visibly demonstrate their commitment to the health and safety program by actively participating in its implementation. How is that done? First of all, NEVER should any member of top-level management walk into the workplace without wearing all PPE required of the workers in the area. NEVER should any member of top-level management grant permission for short-cuts or direct actions that compromise health or safety for the sake of speeding up the job or increasing profits. And NEVER should top-level management verbally state that workplace accidents and injuries are just a part of the job, or that any accident was purely the fault of the injured worker. Instead, top-level managers should treat each and every accident (whether injury-producing or not) as a failure of some part of their management system.

Top-level management must include mid-level managers and line workers in the development, implementation, and refinement of each part of the health and safety program. Simply mandating specific actions be taken by others and then holding them accountable for those actions without soliciting their input is a sure-fire way to create resentment for your safety and health program. Top-level managers must take full advantage of their mid-level managers’ and line workers’ knowledge and insight into the work processes and procedures they perform, because they no doubt have a much deeper understanding of how things “really get done” out in the workplace. Their involvement is also critical to building consensus for your safety program. Therefore, top-level management must allow all affected personnel the opportunity to provide their input and feedback as goals and objectives for the health and safety program are being formed, as responsibility for actions are assigned, and as performance measures are developed.

Top-level management must regularly review their health and safety program to evaluate their success in meeting stated goals and objectives, and to identify deficiencies in their health and safety program. Then revisions to specific objectives and action items can be made where necessary. The program review should be conducted more often during the early stages of safety program implementation, and then on a regular schedule (such as annually) after the program is well established. In many cases this can best be achieved by retaining the services of an independent certified safety professional (CSP) with expertise in evaluating similar organizations’ operations to provide an impartial, objective health and safety program evaluation. The independent safety consultant also can present management with recommendations and new ideas for improving specific portions of their health and safety program.

So there is my overview of some steps that top-level management can take (must take, actually) to objectively demonstrate they are fully committed to providing the leadership and proper motivation necessary to implement and maintain an effective health and safety program at their organization. When effectively executed by top-level management, the steps outlined above can help kick-start the transformation of an organization’s health and safety program from one where health and safety was something only thought about AFTER a worker was injured, to something that is truly a core value of the organization.

Do you agree with me that top-level management’s active involvement is crucial to the success of an organization’s health and safety program? Do you think the steps outlined in this post are necessary, and achievable, for top-level management, even in a small to mid-sized businesses or organization? What other ways can top-level management visibly display their commitment to workplace health and safety?  If you have any feedback or a comment to contribute, I (and many of our readers) would appreciate your providing that information, as well as other pertinent feedback, in the “Comments” section provided below. And also, please share a link to this blog with others in your network who could benefit from reading this information.